CHAMA, N.M. (KRQE) – A former fifth-grade teacher in Chama is accused of hitting, grabbing and throwing things at students, according to two lawsuits filed against Chama Valley Independent Schools.

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Attorney Sheri Raphaelson, an attorney in Rio Arriba County, filed the lawsuits on Aug. 7 in the First Judicial District Court on behalf of two parents whose children were allegedly abused in Phillip Gallegos’ class at Chama Middle and Elementary School. The lawsuit stated the two 11-year-old students were hit during the 2022-2023 school year.

Student 1 claimed Gallegos “came up behind him, rotated his arm in an exaggerated manner like a baseball pitcher winding up and then hit (him) on his behind.” Gallegos reportedly then told the student “nice pose,” according to the lawsuit.

Student 1’s parents said they spoke to Gallegos about the incident and Gallegos reportedly said “If (the student) was so bothered, why didn’t he turn around and do something?” Gallegos also told the parent that he did not want the situation to “fester,” the lawsuit stated.

Student 2 claimed Gallegos hit him on the head 12 times between October 2022 and January 2023 and that he saw other students were hit by Gallegos. According to the lawsuit, the student asked Gallegos to stop hitting him and that Gallegos followed up by hitting him again, which caused the student’s pencil to fly out of his hand.

The parent of Student 2 confronted Gallegos about the alleged abuse during a parent-teacher conference, but according to the lawsuit, the hitting continued. The parent said she tried to contact Principal Rebecca Garcia but claimed she would not take or return her calls. Student 2’s grandparent was able to get in contact with Garcia and told her about the abuse.

Garcia reportedly told the grandparent that she was sorry about what happened and said she would look into it and get back to them. The grandparent claims Garcia never followed up, the lawsuit stated. The lawsuit also claimed Chama Valley Independent Schools and members in leadership roles did not attempt to stop or intervene in the alleged abuse.

The lawsuit also alleged that Gallegos would tell the students about his time in the military including how many people he killed, how he killed them, and “what it felt like emotionally and physically when he killed people.”

According to the lawsuit, New Mexico State Police began an investigation into Gallegos on Feb. 5, 2023, for the crimes of criminal sexual contact of a minor child under 13 and child abuse due to his actions with students in his class. The investigation started after some of the parents who had children in Gallegos’ class made a complaint to NMSP, the lawsuit stated,

The lawsuit claimed that after the school district learned of the NMSP investigation, they removed Gallegos from the classroom. Parents were notified on Feb. 6 that Gallegos was placed on administrative leave pending an investigation. The Santa Fe New Mexican reported that Gallegos remained employed by the school district until June 9.

KRQE News 13 reached out to Chama Valley Independent Schools about the abuse allegations and received the following statement:

Chama Valley Independent Schools recognizes that parents and families entrust our staff with the safety and well-being of their children and we take that responsibility seriously. Upon learning of the allegations, the District thoroughly investigated and appropriate action was taken. Mr. Gallegos is no longer employed by Chama Valley Independent Schools. At this time, the District will not be commenting further on pending litigation. We thank our community for the ongoing support of Chama Valley Independent Schools and look forward to a wonderful 2023-2024 school year.

Anthony Casados
Superintendent of Chama Valley Schools

A court record search showed that Gallegos has not been charged criminally at the time this story was published. New Mexico State Police Public Information Officer Ray Wilson said the investigation is expected to be completed and turned over to the District Attorney’s office for review by Aug. 22.