A teacher and avowed communist who named himself after an Egyptian god successfully pushed a woke curriculum on the very district that would later fire him over his conduct with a student.
Matef Harmachis, whose original name is Leigh Barker, was convicted of battery in 2017 for an incident that occurred against a female student in his classroom, then spent years on paid disciplinary leave before finally being fired. But before he was fired, he successfully lobbied the Santa Barbara board of education to require all students to take courses in ethnic studies, a branch of Critical Race Theory (CRT). His effort to radicalize the curriculum came despite being accused of groping and biting the female student, threatening and grabbing others and preaching his toxic brand of socialism from in front of the blackboard.
“He would hug me all the time,” said the female student, who The Daily Wire is referring to as “Maria” in order to protect her identity. Over time, the unwelcome hugs became longer and tighter, and he asked Maria to call him “daddy,” she said.
Inside the classroom where Harmachis held court, pictures of Che Guevara and Fidel Castro dotted the walls, according to Maria, who recalled that Harmachis was “very open” about his support for communism.
Harmachis was also open about sex and birth control with his students, Maria said. He offered massages to female students, made sexual noises, and once told his history class “I could have sex with any of the girls here,” according to Maria.
On May 4, 2017, Harmachis grabbed Maria’s buttocks during class, bit her ear, and made explicit sexual statements, she said. When she reported him, the school principal told her “four other women” had previously come forward with sexual allegations against Harmachis, she said. The Santa Barbara Unified School District (SBUSD) called the police and four days later, Harmachis was charged with battery. Two months later, Harmachis pleaded no contest and was later sentenced to one day in jail and three years’ probation. But instead of firing him, the district put him on paid leave at his $87,000 salary for years.
Banished from the classroom, Harmachis nonetheless continued to influence what was taught in the school. He became a front-row fixture at school board meetings. Internal documents obtained by The Daily Wire show that Ethnic Studies Now Santa Barbara Coalition, a radical activist group he helped lead, worked closely with school officials to pursue his agenda to force all students to take “ethnic studies” in order to graduate.
In November 2020, Maria filed a civil suit alleging that SBUSD was long “aware that Harmachis was sexually grooming and abusing female students.” In January 2021, her lawyers went public with a press release that said after his conviction, Harmachis was still involved with the district, attending events and even being featured on the district’s website.
Officials claimed they were “shocked.” They shouldn’t have been: Harmachis was one of Santa Barbara’s most visible CRT activists, presenting an Ethnic Studies award to a youth days after being charged and was seen in newspaper photos at school board headquarters calling for curriculum changes.
Harmachis remained a vocal presence among students, including on school grounds. On June 12, 2018, he sat in the front row of a five-hour-long school board meeting focused on whether to require every student to take Ethnic Studies as a condition for graduating, as his wife, Diane Fujino – a professor of Asian American Studies and onetime director of the Center for Black Studies Research at the University of California, Santa Barbara, pressed the case.
On Nov. 6, 2018, as the board came closer to a vote, ethnic studies supporters again packed the board meeting, with Harmachis visible in news coverage of the meeting. A week later, the requirement passed and a local newspaper article published a photo showing Harmachis, surrounded by students holding up the black power fist, celebrating next to the podium.
In a paper co-written by Harmachis, Fujino, and Ethnic Studies Now! treasurer Sara Bazan called “Circles of Organizing,” the group explained how they used children to take over a school district. The school district had asked the group for evidence that students actually wanted ethnic studies, and the group responded by producing Harmachis and Fujino’s son and five other students who were coordinating directly with Fujino.
“It is about transforming the way we teach by moving away from the audit system of high-stakes testing and toward a democratic education that recognizes different modes of learning and different modes of assessment, that envisions schooling as not requiring working-class students of color to reject their own cultures in pursuit of individual economic mobility,” it said.
Harmachis’s efforts came even as he battled allegations dating back nearly two decades that he had behaved improperly in the classroom. Those claims included allegations he grabbed a Jewish boy who would not turn his pro-Israel shirt inside out and that he spoke inappropriately about sex to students.
In June 2019, Bazan wrote to California’s Commission on Teacher Credentialing in a bid to save Harmachis’s job. The same letter also was sent to a judge slated to sentence Harmachis for the battery conviction in hopes of securing a lenient sentence.
“He, along with myself and our core group of organizers are still working closely with the community and the School District to ensure that the Ethnic Studies Courses offered are of the highest quality,” Bazan wrote.
Paul R. Spickard, a racial history professor and colleague of Harmachis’ wife at UCSB, also wrote to the Commission on UCSB letterhead and invoked antiracism – even though the student Harmachis was convicted of harming is a Latina whose family came to the country illegally – writing that “I understand there has been some difficulty between Matef and the district, perhaps generated by his unswerving advocacy for his students and social justice.”
In March 2020 the State of California revoked Harmachis’s teaching credential. He was finally taken off the payroll by SBUSD on March 8, 2020.
In a newspaper letter to the editor, Bazan told Santa Barbara’s mostly liberal electorate that they would be siding with conservatives – and opposing children – if they questioned the problems in Santa Barbara’s schools. “There is a small group of white supremists [sic] who speak at school board meetings attempting to undermine the progress we have made toward eliminating the achievement gap for students of color,” Bazan wrote.
In an email to The Daily Wire, Harmachis called his victim a “Karen.”
“I am in a civil case with the SBUSD,” Harmachis wrote. “Therefore, on advice of counsel, I am unable to comment on anything involving – even tangentially – the time I spent working in ESN!SB. As you know, the karen who accused me of molesting her is under the wing of Fair Education, whose members have been attacking ES, ESN!SB and social justice in the SBUSD for several years.”
Read part one of the Daily Wire’s three-part investigation here.
Luke Rosiak is the author of the book Race To the Bottom: Uncovering the Secret Forces Destroying American Public Education. Kenny Xu is an education journalist and the author of the book An Inconvenient Minority.