Our View | Campus Crisis: Break Out the Broom

Our View

It sounded like quite the rant. 

On Jan. 24, at North Park Elementary School, a student left his classroom and went on a profanity-filled, destructive tirade. 

All of this is according to a letter from a group of concerned parents that Anna Griese, a board member for the Saugus Union School District, read aloud at the board’s public meeting on Jan. 31.

The district administration would rather it was kept under wraps. They say that’s because they are obligated to protect the privacy of the individual student.

To a point, they are right.

But they have a far greater obligation to be as transparent as possible with EVERY parent who has a child in that school, EVERY time an incident occurs that can remotely be considered a school safety issue.

The parents of North Park were never told about this incident — until, to her credit, Griese read that letter, according to which the student did the following:

• Shouted profanities on campus at school personnel and dared them to (expletive) suspend him.

• Stole a campus radio and shouted profanities into that.

• Tore younger students’ artwork off the walls — art from first graders that should have eventually ended up hanging on a parent’s refrigerator — and drowned said art in the water fountain, damaging the carpet, to boot.

• Ripped a large glass picture frame off the wall.

• Pounded on a glass cabinet repeatedly. 

• Jumped over a countertop into the office area.

• Physically assaulted the principal. We’re pretty sure THIS isn’t in the principal’s job description.

• Prompted what was essentially a soft lockdown of the campus. The front office ended up being closed to parents and students, and the younger children had to be escorted for their snack and recess on a different route than normal so as to avoid the ruckus.

There are rumblings on social media that the student’s privacy issues are particularly paramount because he is a special needs student. We don’t know with any certainty whether he is and we are not seeking to identify him. 

Regardless of that, the handling of this incident raises multiple issues and questions that the school district is stonewalling. 

When we asked the district for a response and a copy of the letter that was read in the public school board meeting, our reporter sent a simple email asking for it — it wasn’t a formal California Public Records Act letter, which is usually our “second step” when we are rebuffed after asking a public agency for something we believe should be public.

What came back was an email from Superintendent Colleen Hawkins, immediately throwing up the barrier of the Public Records Act’s 10-day window that allows agencies to decide how to respond to formal CPRA requests. It usually means they are circling the wagons and calling the attorneys to see how they can wiggle around releasing something.

The email read: 

“Thank you for your inquiry. Saugus Union School District received your request under the California Public Records Act (Gov. Code § 6250 et seq.) sent via email on Feb. 7, 2023.

“According to board policy and Administrative Regulation 1340, the district will respond to a request for an allowable public record within 10 days of receiving the request. That response will also indicate the timeline for release of those records. We have acknowledged receipt of the request. In an effort to ensure that public records involving student information are properly disclosed, we will supply the document you requested within 10 days of your email request. You can anticipate receiving the requested document on or before Feb. 17, 2023 (Government Code 6253).

“Further to your request for information related to a specific incident at a school site, the district does not comment on situations that are related to student incidents. It is our policy to protect the privacy of students and their families. Comment on protocols would also communicate information that is specifically related to an individual student or students.”

That’s a whole lot of words saying: We aren’t discussing this campus safety issue in any way, shape or form.

Among the as-yet unanswered questions we have:

At what point are school officials obligated to alert parents to an incident on campus? This one, according to the parents’ letter read by Griese, escalated to physical violence, theft and vandalism/destruction of property. Even for a minor, that’s three potential criminal charges at least. We’re not necessarily advocating he be prosecuted or sent to juvenile hall, but the point is these actions should be handled, not buried, and the school community should be informed of how they were handled.

What would it take to prompt school officials to call the Sheriff’s Department for help? Are we waiting for a gun or a knife to be involved? Or would we hide that from parents, too, for the sake of overprotecting one student’s privacy?

The district, per the superintendent’s email, won’t even discuss its protocols for situations like this — not even generically — saying it would jeopardize the student’s privacy. 

What utter hogwash that is.

No one is asking the child’s name. Not even us. His identity is not something that needs to be disclosed. But the nature of the incident, its impact on campus, the response, and steps that are being taken to prevent it from happening again — all of this should have been shared with parents as soon as humanly possible. 

That it took two hours to resolve the situation is evidence that it had spiraled beyond their ability to control it.

Whatever that particular student’s situation or needs are, at what point is a student’s conduct disruptive enough to everyone else that those in charge can conclude that the current environment is the wrong place for the student — not only for the sake of other students whose lives and learning his conduct disrupts, but also for the sake of that student as well?

At the end of that two-hour ordeal, the adults finally got the student to calm down — and they took him back to class, where he finished the day.

Zero consequences, as far as we know. And if not consequences, not even an early end to this particular school day so he could go home and talk to Mom and Dad about it.

Just lift up the rug in the front office and sweep everything under it.

Whatever the reasons for how it was handled, this is not appropriate conduct for a public school campus and this is not how a campus safety issue should be handled. 

If the child needs help the school can’t safely provide without disrupting literally everyone else on campus, get it for him. 

If he’s in crisis, and it prompts him to lash out in this way, he’s clearly in an environment that’s ill-equipped to deal with it — and all of the other kids shouldn’t be subjected to it while the parents are left to wonder:

Is my kid’s school safe?

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