LCUSD Parents Unleash Safety Fears at Board Meeting

Parents at Tuesday’s La Cañada Unified School District Governing Board meeting demanded to know whether their children would be safe attending La Cañada High School on Wednesday morning after a parent speaker shared that a student has allegedly made threats to the school on Instagram.
Crescenta Valley Sheriff’s Dep. Eric Matejka and district officials sought to assure parents that their students would indeed be safe, telling them that every potential threat is investigated and that this perceived threat was unfounded.
“We always look into any threats at the high school and middle school,” Matejka, the city’s dedicated school resource officer, said following the two-hour-plus discussion about safety and security in the district. “If people give me a tip, I’ll investigate it. I always do. And we’ll resolve it, or get the kid help if need be or take them into custody. I’ve done all three.”
The heightened anxiety apparent among the standing room-only crowd in the district’s meeting room stemmed from various incidents, including those close to home and on the other side of the country. The mass shooting in Florida that killed 17 people on Valentine’s Day already was weighing on the LCUSD community before three drug-related hospitalizations and two drug-related arrests occurred on campus last week.
“This item was introduced initially in response to the tragic events in Florida on Feb. 14,” Superintendent Wendy Sinnette said. “Our initial concerns about our students and our schools were safety as we faced the news of yet another tragic school shooting. A few days later, our concerns turned inward as we faced hospitalizations and arrests in drug-related incidents.
“On both fronts we must be vigilant,” Sinnette continued. “And that is why I invited you here tonight to gather in open session and open dialogue so that in partnership we can respond to community needs.”
That discussion was far-reaching as district officials tried to solidify approaches for dealing with a range of problems at the schools, both in the near and far term.
The meeting touched, at times, on bond planning, and in which types of on-campus security measures the district might invest. Those could include additional cameras or even, per board member Joe Radabaugh’s suggestion, reinforced tables that students could hide behind in the event of a shooter.
“Safety has percolated to the top,” Radabaugh said of the district’s spending priorities, which also could address the years-old conversation about campus fencing.
Several parents expressed frustration that the student who was suspended and charged with child endangerment and possession of a controlled substance on Wednesday, Feb. 21, could have gotten back on campus on Friday, April 23 (when he suffered a seizure and had to be transported to the hospital).
“It is unacceptable to me that a suspended student is on campus again,” Patricia Corrales said. “We don’t know what that suspended student could have done or what could have happened. There’s no security at the front gate preventing the suspended student from getting a foot on campus.”
In response, board member Dan Jeffries said that without a gate, it’s difficult to keep people who aren’t supposed to be on campus away.
“Our campuses right now are very open, anybody can go on 20 different ways,” said Jeffries, a prosecutor of the city of L.A. “We don’t physically have a way to funnel everyone through one place and screen everyone going on.”
When the district surveyed parents about their opinions on additional fencing following the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012, it found responses split relatively evenly. But the response from those in attendance at Tuesday’s meeting indicated a survey now might yield different results.
“You don’t want a campus that looks like a lockdown prison, but you have to have some reasonable measures in place,” Jeffries said.
There was also support for a tip line by which students or community members could report suspicious activity. Sinnette said she expected that would be active by the end of the week, or as soon as it was cleared by district lawyers. The conversation also touched on updated sign-in procedures and possibly limiting students’ permission to go off-campus during the school day.
District officials promised enhanced communication, both with parents and especially with students, some of whom said they felt overlooked during the past week’s incidents.
“I know kids need to be in the loop,” senior Sarah Ann Settles said. “When you don’t keep kids in the loop, that’s when gossip forms and that can be a cause of pandemonium.”
Sinnette cautioned that the district still will be careful about what information it shares with the community.
“We want to verify our facts, we don’t want to give misinformation,” said Sinnette, who sent four emails to families about the separate incidents last week. “And when you work with law enforcement, it’s under their control, so we’re waiting to hear from them as to what we can say.”
Parents described rampant drug use on campus, and the prevalence of vaping — including during class via easily concealable Juul devices. They wondered why teachers do not do more to stop it.
They also decried their perceived limitations of disciplinary regulations (which Sinnette explained were state law) and the ineffectiveness of drug-searching dogs (whose presence is never a surprise to students.)
Jim Cartnal, LCUSD’s executive director of student services, asked the parents for help fighting drug use.
“We love your kids and we care deeply and we work really, really hard to support them, and we trust them, but we need to verify, too,” Cartnal said, noting that Juul devices “are purchased on the Internet, they don’t just happen to arrive at your house, they’re paid for by credit card, and they come through delivery service to your doors.”
Adin Ryssdal, a junior, said most of the drug use at LCHS stems from the stress students are under.
“The biggest driver is the culture of grinding, the stress parents put on, AP classes,” Ryssdal said. “If we try to reduce the focus on grades, academics and the Ivys, I think that will help tremendously.”
Sinnette also agreed that the school should stage an assembly in the coming days to help students cope with all that’s happened, and to make sure students know that counselors are available to them. She also suggested bringing back the peer counseling program.
Averi Suk, the board’s student representative, said she thought peer conversation would help.
“We’re a new generation, we’re use to what’s happened,” she said. “And we’re teenagers; we don’t necessarily want to talk to adults. And we have a lot of mixed responses. I’m sorry, but some kids genuinely don’t care, and other kids are very scared. It’s a range of emotions.”

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