The Archdiocese of Santa Fe and the head of Santo Niño Regional Catholic School have acknowledged they didn’t immediately report concerns to police about an incident in April between a student and a health aide, but both Principal Robin Chavez and the archdiocese issued statements late last week denying Chavez told an investigator she had been directed by the Roman Catholic institution not to notify law enforcement.
Chavez has said 30-year-old Robert Apodaca was placed on leave after another employee said she found him in a dark room with a boy on his lap. He resigned soon after. In July, he was arrested on three felony charges of molesting a student at Gonzales Community School, where he previously worked as a health aide. He has not been charged in connection with any allegations at Santo Niño.
In a Friday email to parents, Chavez wrote, “Let me clearly say that at no time was I ordered not to report this incident.”
She repeated the claim to at least one set of parents in a discussion Sept. 8.
According to a recording of the meeting, which parents provided to The New Mexican, Chavez referred to a news story on state police Officer Eric Jackson’s initial report into a complaint from the boy’s parent.
Jackson interviewed Chavez at the school April 29, according to a redacted version of his report provided by an attorney. The report cites allegations of criminal sexual contact of a minor and enticement of a child.
“Mrs. Chavez informed she contacted the office of the Archdiocese and was informed not to contact Children, Youth and Families Department (CYFD) nor Law Enforcement, as it did not yet rise to that level of notification,” Jackson wrote.
He added: “As of the time of my interview no contact to any department had taken place nor did it appear any contact would be made.”
In the recorded interview with parents, Chavez said, “We have no control over what they [news media] infer or what they want to write. But I can tell you that at no time was any direction or conversation given not to report.”
Chavez said she and Annette Klimka, the victims assistance coordinator for the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, were in the process of preparing to report the incident to police when the officer arrived at the school.
“There are confidentiality rules that I have to follow when there’s a personnel matter,” she told the parents, according to the recording. “And that’s not directed to me by the archdiocese. … It is a typical response to an employment matter we cannot disclose, especially if there’s a police investigation possibly going on.”
A two-page document posted Friday on the archdiocese’s website outlines Apodaca’s history at the school, from his hire in August 2019 and initial background checks to his arrest in July.
The document cites the April 23 incident: “In an after-school group, Robert Apodaca (RA) was found by a staff member with several students around his desk as they watched a movie on his laptop. The door appeared to be locked, but the door had been problematic previously and was pending repair. A child opened the door when staff member knocked. The staff member ‘thought’ she saw a child on RA’s lap. The staff member witnessed no indications of sexual abuse. However, both the lights being off and child on lap is against school and ASF policy.”
The staff member notified Chavez of the policy violation April 26, and the principal informed the child’s parent April 28.
Jackson arrived at the school to speak with Chavez a day later.
“The principal attests adamantly that she was not ‘ordered’ to not report the incident as was reported in the Santa Fe New Mexican,” the archdiocese wrote in its post. “This is likely a lack of clarity in communicating with the investigating officer. As the officer reported, there was no crime evident.”
Parents have held protests at the school and have circulated a petition calling for Chavez to step down over her silence on the issue. They say she didn’t provide them with any information about the investigation into Apodaca at Santo Niño or his arrest on unrelated charges until Sept. 3, when she sent an email in response to news reports on the allegations.
Amid rising tensions, Santa Fe County sheriff’s deputies responded to a call about a disruption at the school Sept. 8. According to a sheriff’s office report, parents of a student there became disorderly and told Chavez she should resign. The parents withdrew their child from Santo Niño that day. They have not been charged with a crime.
State police have provided little comment on the investigation — other than to say it is ongoing — and have not yet provided reports or video of Jackson’s interview with Chavez, in which she discussed her decision not to notify police of the incident.
In an email this week, state police Lt. Mark Soriano confirmed the information in Jackson’s report is accurate.
When he interviewed the boy and his family, the officer wrote, the boy said he had sat on Apodaca’s lap numerous times and that Apodaca would take him alone on “rounds” throughout the school, including to a storage room on campus and a roof-access area. The boy said Apodaca told him to “keep it a secret,” according to Jackson’s report.
The boy also said Apodaca allowed him to play on an iPad, and that he felt uncomfortable sitting in the man’s lap but did not speak up about it.
Jackson wrote in his report the boy was scheduled for a safe house interview — a forensic interview of a child conducted at the request of the Children, Youth and Families Department or law enforcement — which occurred April 30.
Leslie Radigan, a spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, wrote in an email this week the school will host a training at the end of the month in collaboration with Santa Fe-based Psychotherapy and Pastoral Counseling Associates in response to the series of events surrounding Apodaca.
“ASF will cooperate with an investigation if law enforcement deems one is warranted,” she added.
Chavez wrote in her email to parents Friday she’d heard from some of them about the need for more communication. “While I very much agree that there should have been some communication, I will reiterate that there are legal constraints on what I may share about employment matters,” she wrote.
“In response, I will work with parents, law enforcement and legal counsel to create a communication plan for letting parents know when issues of concern arise that will meet the privacy requirements that we must adhere to,” the email continued.
Santa Fe Public Schools also has been addressing parents’ concerns about allegations of sexual abuse by Apodaca.
Last week, Gonzales Community School hosted a virtual meeting with parents.
“We responded quickly and started planning for the discussion as soon as we learned of this individual’s harmful behavior,” Superintendent Hilario “Larry” Chavez wrote in a recent bulletin. “I’m extremely sorry that this has occurred and determined to ensure that we never again experience such reports in our schools.”