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Madera Unified's hiring of convicted felon divides community

A North Valley community is divided over the hiring of a convicted felon to work at the Madera Unified School District.
Tuesday, August 26, 2014
A North Valley community is divided over the hiring of a convicted felon to work at the Madera Unified School District.

Daniel Longoria was hired by the district to help students graduate and avoid a criminal lifestyle. School leaders say he can relate to students, but parents say they don't want a convicted felon anywhere near a school setting.

Longoria has served in state prisons including Corcoran and Pelican Bay for offenses including burglary and assault with a deadly weapon. Longoria also admits he stabbed an inmate.

"I had gotten stabbed here in the neck, and I was defending myself," said Longoria.

Longoria says since then he's turned his life around and now helps kids avoid getting into gangs. The 48-year-old was recently hired by Madera Unified to work with at-risk kids.

"When I see these children with adverse childhood experiences I can identify them right away," he said.

On Tuesday night, parents packed a school board meeting, worried about students' safety around him and concerned about the district's hiring practices.

"As a mother and having my son, I just wouldn't want people like that around my son," said Amanda Vela.

But supporters of Longoria's hire say there's no better candidate to school kids on the dangers of living an illegal lifestyle.

"A person with experience, students have a reason to listen and to view his path as an example to not go down that path," said Myeli Alvarado.

School leaders say Longoria passed a rigorous background check to land the job.

"What's important here is to understand that before an employee can work in a school district they have to be vetted and approved by the Department of Justice. There are no exceptions to that, and so this employee was no exception," said Madera Unified Superintendent Edward Gonzalez.

As for Longoria, he says he understands the backlash, but he's focusing on trying to make a positive change.

"It's fair, it's fair. If you don't know people, it's fair to form an opinion based on what you read," said Longoria.

The school district did add that Longoria did not graduate college but is qualified because he's taken what they say are the necessary requirements to counsel students. School leaders say Tuesday night's meeting will not affect whether he remains hired with the district.

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