SMMUSD HDQTRS — One Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District board member is sharply criticizing the district’s handling of an incident in February in which two high school students were arrested for allegedly bringing nearly two dozen knives and a loaded BB gun to campus.

The students were arrested Feb. 25 and 26 at Santa Monica High School, but the district didn’t inform parents about the incident until April 9, when Superintendent Tim Cuneo sent an e-mail bulletin to parents stating that “there was no public safety threat.”

Many parents first heard about the incident when a story ran in the Santa Monica Daily Press.

Cuneo this week defended his administration’s handling of the incident, saying the two boys posed no risk to campus safety, but were merely fascinated with ninja knives and paraphernalia. The students also allegedly brought face masks, ninja stars and hand cuffs to the school.

Santa Monica Police Department detectives who investigated the incidents also said there was no evidence of a threat at the campus.

But School Board Member Oscar de la Torre this week said he believed the incident should have been made public much earlier.

“I disagree with the superintendent on keeping this information internal and I believe parents deserve to be informed when weapons in large amounts are found on students,” he said. “Unfortunately we live in violent times and young people have committed horrible crimes throughout the nation, so we should be overly cautious when dealing with weapons.”

He also said he wasn’t convinced the incident could easily be explained as springing from a harmless interest in ninjas.

“I understand the fascination with ninja knives, but I’m still confused how a loaded BB gun and handcuffs play into that fascination,” he said.

The students, who have not been named because they are juveniles, were charged with bringing weapons onto campus and are facing expulsion, pending a decision by the school board.

Cuneo and Deputy Police Chief Phil Sanchez met with leaders of the district’s Parent Teacher Association at a regularly scheduled meeting this week and explained their decision not to inform parents about the incident immediately after the arrests were made.

“If we thought that there was a threat to students and or faculty, [parents] would have known immediately,” Cuneo said in an interview.

Although a couple of parents felt differently, Cuneo said most who attended the meeting on Tuesday were “very appreciative of the steps we took” and understood the district didn’t alert parents “because of our concern of raising anxiety around the school when in fact there was no safety issue for our faculty or students.”

Shari Davis, president of the PTA council, said after listening to Cuneo and Sanchez explain the protocols that were followed most parents were comfortable with how the situation was handled.

“It was about the safety and welfare of the students involved in the situation, so I respect that,” she said.

nickt@smdp.com

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