SMMUSD HDQTRS — When two Santa Monica High School students were arrested in February for allegedly bringing daggers, a BB gun, handcuffs, rope and black face masks to school, district officials claimed the students had posed no threat to campus safety.
On April 9, when Santa Monica-Malibu Unifed School District Superintendent Tim Cuneo notified parents about the incident with a district-wide bulletin, he assured them there had been “no evidence of a plan to incite violence.”
The students, who have since been expelled from the district, had merely been fascinated with ninjas, he said; an investigation by the district and Santa Monica Police Department had determined there was no public safety threat.
“Campus safety is our top priority and if there is any indication that there is a threat to the safety of our students and staff you will be informed immediately,” he wrote in the bulletin.
In interviews in April, SMPD detectives also told the Santa Monica Daily Press there had been no plan to incite violence.
But documents describing the investigation that led to the students being expelled that were obtained by the Daily Press appear to contradict officials’ earlier statements.
In an interview with police after his arrest, one of the students said he had been repeatedly bothered by a classmate and that if the person continued to “mess with him” he would “tie him up and pull out a knife to teach him a lesson,” according to an official record.
In recommending the student’s expulsion, a district official wrote that “the naming of a possible student target suggests the intention of violence,” and labeled the student “a significant threat.”
Other documents showed more evidence of possible threats.
The second student had maintained a website with a profile that included the statement, “I have a very large collection of knives, and trust me when I say, ‘I will stab you,’ I mean it,” according to official records. The website profile also contained a reference to being bisexual and a threat the student would retaliate violently against anyone who made “a gay joke” in front of him.
The second student also had previously been questioned for allegedly bringing a knife to school.
On Feb. 11, two weeks before the student’s arrest, a classmate reported seeing the student drop a knife on the floor during class, according to official documents. The teacher interviewed the student about the incident the next day but determined he was “a low risk and not a danger to have on campus,” according to the document.
The high school student who reported the Feb. 11 incident, though, described it as a scary event in an e-mail message to a teacher.
In the e-mail, which was obtained by the Daily Press, the student wrote that seeing the knife “frightened me and the other kids that noticed this” and urged the teacher to “please take this seriously, this is not a joke.”
In an interview on Wednesday, SMMUSD Board President Barry Snell denied the weapons incident that led to the two students’ arrests had been more serious than the district portrayed it to be.
“I never heard that there was a potential threat at all, so that’s news to me,” Snell said.
The student who mentioned the possibility of targeting a classmate when questioned by police later recanted his statement, Snell said. He said he was not aware of a website maintained by either of the students that contained threatening language.
Snell also denied the district had inappropriately withheld information about the arrests.
“Nothing has been withheld or not disclosed to teachers, parents and the board,” he said.
The expelled students, who have not been identified because both were minors at the time of their arrests on Feb. 25 and Feb. 26, are facing criminal charges, police said last month
The documents obtained by the Daily Press also provided a complete picture of the weapons the students allegedly possessed: 13 knives, the largest of which had a 10-inch fixed blade; six throwing knives; a BB gun that looked like a pistol; four pairs of handcuffs; a blowgun made out of bamboo with a nail; two black masks; two ropes and a wrist wrap with spikes.
Teacher union seeks answers<p>
Several parents and School Board Member Oscar de la Torre in April criticized district officials for failing to disclose more information about the arrests immediately after they occurred.
Cuneo waited until April 9 to notify parents about the incident, the day after an article describing the arrests appeared in the Daily Press.
This month, Santa Monica-Malibu Classroom Teachers Association officials sought more information about the arrests, stating in a letter dated May 12: “Unfortunately, the only knowledge we have regarding this matter is from news reports and other external sources. We do not believe it’s good practice to respond to member questions based on news reports and hearsay.”
In the letter, SMMCTA officials asked whether the students had “been previously involved with similar issues” and whether they threatened colleagues or staff members either verbally or in writing. The association also asked the district to provide pictures of the weapons the students were allegedly carrying.
Snell said the district had responded to the SMMCTA’s letter.
SMMCTA President Harry Keiley could not be reached for comment. Cuneo also could not be reached for this story on Wednesday. The SMPD did not return a call seeking additional comment on Wednesday.