SAMOHI — Officials from Santa Monica High School, the school district and police department took heat from parents Tuesday night who gathered to hear what was being done to keep their children safe in the wake of fights that broke out on and off campus in preceding weeks.
Parents vented their frustration with officials for the incomplete information released about the conflicts when they began, and demanded a play-by-play on what officials and police had done to secure the campus and nearby bus stops.
Parents have been on edge since a gang-related shooting took place near campus in December in which a student was wounded.
Officials played defense, admitting that there was little they could say to parents about the fights that happened or other incidents that students have alleged, including guns being pulled or fear of busing home at night.
Parents have many questions about the events on campus in recent weeks, trying to parse the rumors from the truth, said Superintendent Sandra Lyon.
“I understand that we can’t always answer them in the way you want or need,” she said.
While the district did not want to minimize the severity of what was going on, neither did it want to inflate the situation by repeating unconfirmed information or reports, Lyon said.
“It’s a delicate balance that we have,” she said.
Police and staff asked parents to encourage their kids to report violence or threats or to do it themselves if the children felt uncomfortable getting peers in trouble with the school or law.
“Amongst kids, there’s a code of snitching,” said Student Resource Officer Carlos Injaen. “They need to make sure they bring it to our attention so we can address it.”
Students or parents can call the police dispatch line at (310)458-8491 if they’d like to report an incident, or 911 if an emergency occurs.
Kids can also go to their counselors or house administrators if they see anything, or to any adult on campus if they see a fight or other safety issue, said O House Principal Clara Herran.
The question and answer session took place during a regular meeting of the Samohi Parent Teacher Student Association.
The group had originally convened the panel to answer questions about safety pertaining to the shooting in Ocean Park.
On Jan. 5, however, students leaving track and field practice were approached by a group of other youth. Words were exchanged, there was name calling back and forth and a fight started which spilled onto Lincoln Boulevard.
The fight was gang-related, said Samohi Principal Laurel Fretz.
A passing driver called the police to report the fight, and the kids scattered. In the course of the investigation, it was revealed that one teen picked up a scooter and swung it at another.
The fight, and subsequent spin-off fights on campus, resulted in four suspensions, Fretz said.
In reaction to the violence, police stepped up patrols around the school, and campus adults maintained a visible presence on during lunch and other active times.
Oscar de la Torre, director of the Pico Youth & Family Center and member of the Board of Education, partnered with the school to lead a mediation for approximately 30 students involved in the conflicts.
The girls managed to make commitments to one another to keep the peace. de la Torre plans to follow up with the boys involved, and hopes for a similar outcome.
“Violence is the language of the inarticulate,” de la Torre said Wednesday. “If we cannot dialogue, we cannot attain peace.”
At the end of the meeting, parents remained concerned about their children’s safety, particularly for athletes that leave the campus later at night after the police presence has largely ended.
It didn’t help that at that moment, police were chasing a suspect from a traffic stop across campus.
Lynn Sturgis, a parent and district employee, was unhappy that the parents assembled didn’t receive more concrete information on how to keep their children safe while on campus.
Chuntae Johnson, another parent, also walked away unsatisfied, but for a different reason.
“They weren’t given time to respond,” Johnson said, referring to the panel of district officials and police.
Furthermore, not everything that has happened took place on campus, which makes it more of a police issue, Johnson said.
“There’s only so much the school can do,” she said.