-- A young woman, who claims her fourth-grade teacher sexually abused her when she was his student, says she plans to speak out against her alleged abuser in court and hopes sharing her story will help others.
“He can’t intimidate me the way he did when I was a little girl,” Nallely Hernandez, 19, told “Nightline.” “Talking about it gives me more control over the situation … I won’t let him have any control over me.”
Nallely shared her story their stories publicly for the first time in a special edition of ABC News "Nightline” that aired in April about a practice known as “passing the trash.”
“Passing the trash” occurs when a teacher accused of sexual misconduct is allowed to leave a school – through a confidentiality, separation agreement or other means - and quietly seek employment at another school without the new employer being alerted to the allegations, according to S.E.S.A.M.E. (Stop Educator Abuse Misconduct and Exploitation), an organization dedicated to the prevention of sexual abuse by school employees.
Nallely says that when she was a student in entered Gary Gregor’s fourth grade class at Fairview Elementary School in Espanola, New Mexico, he started off showering her and her friends with gifts – but alleges that he then began sexually abusing them.
Gregor is facing charges of three counts of criminal sexual penetration of a minor (child under 13), five counts of kidnapping; one count of criminal sexual contact of a minor (unclothed) (child under 13), and four counts of criminal sexual contact of a minor (child under 13).
He heads to trial in January and if convicted on all charges, Gregor could face a maximum penalty of 165 years in prison.
Gregor declined to be interviewed by ABC News nor make a statement except to say, via his attorney, that he denies the allegations.
ABC News obtained rarely seen footage of Nallely as a young girl, struggling to find the right words during a 2009 police investigation to tell her dark story of alleged abuse that took place in her elementary school classroom. It is part of an interview Nallely gave during a 2009 police investigation into alleged abuse at her school. In the video, young Nallely says, “I used to always wear my jacket and then never wear skirts, I always used to wear pants because I was afraid.”
Gregor had a trail of allegations of misconduct following him for years, across school districts, from state to state, classroom to classroom.
Long before Nallely, Gary Gregor taught fifth grade in Utah. In 1995, the state charged him with sexual abuse of a child. A district judge dismissed the charges citing insufficient proof, and the state board of education issued Gregor a reprimand. He then taught in two other schools in Montana and New Mexico, before becoming a fourth grade teacher in Santa Fe.
There, during a field trip in 2004, museum staff reported seeing Gregor inappropriately touching students. The school investigated, finding that Gregor hugged and tickled the girls -- the principal writing, “I believe this may be ‘grooming’ behavior on the part of Dr. Gregor.”
Later that year, Santa Fe Public Schools and Gregor signed an agreement that he would resign and not apply for another position within the school district, and in exchange, he would receive a neutral recommendation.
“You shouldn't allow a teacher to have a neutral recommendation who you've given this kind of reprimand to,” said Cammie Nichols, Nallely’s attorney.
“They basically say 'we’ll grease the wheels so that you can go get a job somewhere else, as long as it's not here at our school,'” noted attorney Dave Ring, who says he has litigated passing the trash cases for more than 20 years. “It’s the easy way out. It's the quickest most efficient solution to get rid of a dangerous teacher. Get them out of our school. Let someone else deal with them. Hold our breath,” he added.
Agreements like this – freeing teachers to move onto other schools and classrooms – have been banned in only seven states across the country. This practice is what Congress aimed to stamp out when it passed a 2015 law requiring states to prohibit helping a school employee find a new job after sexual misconduct is found or even suspected. The bipartisan effort was spearheaded by U.S. Senator Pat Toomey, R-Pa, who described "passing the trash" as “the horrific practice of a school helping a pedophile obtain a new job at another school.”
Nallely was one of several in her class who reported the alleged abuse by Gregor to the principal, Ruby Montoya.
“Her response that he was a good friend of hers and she knew that he wouldn’t do that,” recalled Nallely.
Nallely says Montoya came into the classroom to reprimand them, placing the blame squarely on the girls. But court documents also show that Nallely and her friends weren’t the only ones to report Gregor’s misconduct to Montoya. A concerned mother says she had complained several times and another teacher reported inappropriate behavior.
In a statement to ABC News through her attorney, Montoya maintains there was “absolutely no wrongdoing of any type.”
“We continue to maintain that there was absolutely no wrongdoing of any type by former Principal Ms. Montoya,” the statement reads. “She timely investigated and took action regarding all alleged infractions. Mr. Gregor’s class was regularly monitored, and a grandmother sat in on a good portion of his class on a daily basis just a few feet from his desk. There was never any report from this independent party made to Ms. Montoya regarding any alleged improper conduct. As far as the Española School District, it had performed an appropriate police background check on Mr. Gregor prior to him being hired. Further, the school district did a thorough and complete internal investigation which lead to the termination of Mr. Gregor. These actions all occurred many years prior to Ms. Hernandez’ lawsuit ever being filed. Regardless, efforts will be initiated and made on a state and national level to restructure the manner in which background checks are made and how classrooms are monitored in order to maximize protection for the student.”
Nallely’s friend eventually told her own parents, prompting them to call the police, who then conducted an investigation. But once the police forwarded their report to the district attorney’s office, the case languished for years.
Soon after “Nightline” began reporting on this issue, New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas stepped in. He called for a grand jury investigation where Nallely testified, once again sharing the sensitive details of the alleged misconduct by Gregor.
As a result, Gregor was indicted, though at his arraignment he pleaded not guilty. At his plea hearing in May, the judge stated, “The court’s primary concern … is ensuring that Mr. Gregor has absolutely no contact with any minors during the pendency of this case.”
Nallely expressed her relief to “Nightline” saying, “I got the chills. It feels nice to know that finally something is being done about what happened to us a long time ago.”
And since his arrest, three more women have come forward with their own stories of alleged sexual abuse by Gregor when they were still in elementary school. He now faces additional criminal charges, including multiple counts of criminal sexual penetration, criminal sexual contact, and one count each of sexual exploitation of children and kidnapping.
ABC requested a comment from Gregor through his attorney about these new charges, but he declined.
Nallely’s case is far from isolated. A December 2010 United States Government Accountability Office report entitled, “K-12 Education: Selected Cases of Public and Private Schools That Hired or Retained Individuals with Histories of Sexual Misconduct,” found that on average one child predator in schools had as many as 73 victims, sometimes without ever being caught. The Department of Education estimates that 4.5 million students are subject to sexual misconduct by a school employee sometime between kindergarten and 12th grade.
Balderas emphasized that there needs to be “teeth in the law when it comes to school districts failing to provide adequate safety for students,” and added that they are “not meeting their legal obligation in properly investigating this type of information and then properly referring it into law enforcement.” He reiterated that enabling “these predators” to go from school district to school district is “absolutely appalling” and stressed the need for legal accountability across the board as the current system is failing to protect the students.
Cases like Nallely’s were part of a year-long investigation into “passing the trash” by USA Today reporter Steve Reilly.
“What we find is that an adult in the workplace is more protected against abuse than a child in a school,” Reilly said. “That child doesn’t have generally an attorney advocating for them. They don't have a union behind them and it's a child on their own reporting to responsible adults.”
Despite existing laws in most states requiring schools to report suspected child abuse, Reilly says he found in his reporting that it was extremely rare for administrators who did not report suspected abuse to be held criminally accountable.
Until laws and enforcement of the laws change, the onus is on the parents, said Dr. Charles Hobson, the author of “Passing the Trash.” He recommended that parents personally meet with their children’s educators and demand two things: “I never want my child to be alone with a school employee and I never want my child touched by a school employee unless it is a medical necessity.” He added that parents also have to educate their children about these issues to ensure their safety at school.
Nallely says she remains hopeful that justice will finally be served.
“I look forward to him not being able to do this to anybody else,” she said. “That’s the most important thing to me.”