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Sonoma County school officials offer solutions for worsening safety conditions at parent-led meeting
The Press Democrat - 12/8/2023
Dec. 7—Just over 50 parents, students and school and city officials gathered in the Sonoma County Office of Education Thursday night to discuss solutions regarding school safety within the Santa Rosa City Schools district.
Parents, who listened intently to speakers, were roused over yet another violent incident on school campuses; many of them waited outside of Herbert Slater's campus Thursday morning while their children were inside on lockdown, initiated when a student reportedly brandished a knife after other students started a fight with him in a math classroom.
Key stakeholders sat in the audience, including Santa Rosa City Schools Superintendent Anna Trunnell, Sonoma County Superintendent Amie Carter, Trustee Jeremy De La Torre, Santa Rosa City Council Member Jeff Okrepkie and Santa Rosa Police Sgt. Matt Crosbie.
The meeting was organized by the Safe Campus Alliance, a parent-led community group that has recently formed to put pressure on the school board in implementing more safety measures. The group has a particular focus on bringing back school resource officers.
"Unfortunately, things like this happen to create this momentum," said Stephanie Taylor, a founder of the Safe Campus Alliance. "We need this to force our school board to react. They're in control of the decisions and they're not listening."
Taylor was among the parents who waited outside of Slater Middle School Thursday morning, hoping her daughter, who is in seventh grade, was safe.
Much of the meeting centered around proposals to improve safety that were presented by SCOE's Assistant Superintendent Louis Ganzler. His recommendations included standardized crisis responses, simplified safety plans and the installation of behavioral threat assessment teams.
The latter would not require additional personnel but, instead, would require schools to enroll various qualified staff — counselors, on-site therapists and teachers in training — who would help to identify alarming behaviors in students and provide mediation before an incident occurs.
Ganzler shared that many Santa Rosa City Schools staff were present at SCOE's first round of training for the program.
At one point, when members of the audience began to pepper Ganzler with questions about school resource officers, Carter stepped in.
"I'm not going to hide the football," Carter said. "Ganzler and I, we are really supportive and we have seen really great things from school resource officers."
Her response brought a large round of applause from Safe Campus Alliance members, who have pushed for the reinstatement of SROs onto Santa Rosa City Schools' campuses.
Carter, elaborating on her past experience with SROs, presented a middle ground — suggested modifications that included the presence of plain-clothes officers and clear boundaries on disciplines SROs can and cannot mete out to students.
Taylor, with Safe Campus Alliance, then walked the mic over to a group of students who spoke openly about their experiences.
Montgomery High School junior Lulia Embaye said that as a student of color who was initially against the return of SROs, her first-hand experience with them this past spring has given her a different perspective.
"(SROs) definitely did help, but it's not the only answer. But, it's the only answer that we know of at this point that we've seen make change," she said. "SROs would help our school culture and climate, but it goes far beyond that, and we can't stop there."
Toward the end of the meeting, Sgt. Crosbie took the mic to speak of Thursday morning's events. He assured parents that the police department has a good relationship with the Santa Rosa City Schools district.
Danielle Garduno with the Violence Prevention Program stood briefly while Crosbie spoke about the incident. She then spoke to parents who had concerns about a gang presence on campus. She tried to reassure parents that her team is doing as much as they can — with limited resources — to curb gang-related activity on school grounds.
She told parents of her plans to expand an on-the-street gang intervention team that aims to prevent gang involvement of students in the district and provide wrap-around support to those involved and their families.
When the topic of who would pay for the SRO program came up, there was some back-and-forth with parents about whether the city had the funds for the program.
"What's the hold up?" some parents demanded to know.
You can reach Staff Writer Alana Minkler at 707-526-8531 or email@example.com. On X, formerly Twitter, @alana_minkler.
Report For America corps member Adriana Gutierrez covers education and child welfare issues for The Press Democrat. Reach her at Adriana.Gutierrez@pressdemocrat.com
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