Concerns over safety, lack of campus officers at Santa Rosa City Schools after Montgomery High stabbing

Students demanding safer school conditions following fatal stabbing at Santa Rosa school California Family members, friends and community members hold a memorial for 16-year-old Jayden Pienta who was fatally stabbed in a classroom at Montgomery High School in Santa Rosa. Santiago Mejia/The Chronicle
Three years ago, the school board removed those officers from the campus after the death of George Floyd.

Recently, Santa Rosa school district officials debated the idea of bringing back those community resource officers, after hearing complaints, from students and teachers, about the lack of security.

The Santa Rosa Police Officers Association said their officers were called to city schools 945 times last year. In a statement posted to Facebook, the union said: "Our city is feeling the impact of not having School Resource Officers on campus. It is important for our community to reach out to city leaders and help bring them back."

March 1, 2023, 6:40PM

“Why has it taken a loss of life for you guys to start caring about our school?”

The question came from a Montgomery High student who was addressing Santa Rosa Police Chief John Cregan during a Thursday press conference after a 16-year-old student was fatally stabbed on campus.

16-year-old Jayden Pienta was stabbed to death at Montgomery High in Santa Rosa. March 1, 2023

Students in the crowd applauded the question and shouted more.

“I think it’s important to remember that the Santa Rosa Police Department did not remove the community resource officers from your campus,” Cregan responded. “That was a decision by the Santa Rosa City School board.”

At that point, Cregan and other school and city officials who were in attendance ducked into a nearby classroom as student shouted more questions at them, leaving police spokesman Sgt. Chris Mahurin behind to face the students.

Cell phone video shows the fight in an art class where 16-year-old Jayden Pienta was stabbed to death at Montgomery High in Santa Rosa. March 1, 2023

At issue is a June 2020 decision by Santa Rosa City Schools trustees to suspend the district’s relationship with the Santa Rosa Police Department while it evaluated its school-resource officer program, which had been placing officers on high school and middle school campuses for 25 years.

Related: Before placing officers back on campuses, Santa Rosa schools want changes to program

In the wake of the George Floyd murder by police in Minneapolis earlier that summer, districts across the country began reevaluating the efficacy and fairness of school resource officers. Critics say uniformed and armed police officers on campus can trigger anxiety among students, especially students of color, who are historically disciplined at greater rates than their white peers.

Mahurin said Santa Rosa Police haven’t had resource officers since, but in the wake of Wednesday’s stabbing, social media posts and online comments from parents called for their return.

Cregan told The Press Democrat that in the 2022 calendar year, there were 945 calls to the 25 schools in the district. In the last 12 months there were 97 calls at Montgomery High School, but comparisons with other high schools were not immediately available.

Cregan said he believes the Montgomery number is high, but he didn’t have specifics on what the calls entailed.

He said investigators believe the three students involved in the fatal stabbing had been involved in several altercations in recent weeks, but none of those incidents led to 911 calls.

Cell phone video shows the fight in an art class where 16-year-old Jayden Pienta was stabbed to death at Montgomery High in Santa Rosa. March 1, 2023

Cregan said the benefit of having school resource officers is that they tend to hear about rumors and fights, and they build relationships with students that help keep schools safer.

In a recent interview about the city’s inRESPONSE civilian mental health support team, Cregan said he has received feedback from school officials and community members that they would like to see the team more integrated into Santa Rosa schools.

He said he envisions bringing back a revamped school resource officer program coupled with a mental health clinician, and that it is one of his top goals for this year.

The program could be paid for through a quarter-cent public safety tax that voters approved a 20 year extension on in November.

Katheryn Howell, president of the Santa Rosa Teacher’s Association, said there’s been a frustration among teachers and the district officials over the dismissal of school resource officers.

“The teachers ever since have been protesting … the fact that the SROs aren’t there,” Howell said. "What’s happened of course is that the students don’t feel safe at all and there are no SROs.“

She said that in general there simply are not enough adults on campuses. She added that teacher vacancies across the district have led to burned out teachers who are expected to make up for the work that school resource officers did.

“The SROs were dismissed and nothing was done to replace the work that they did,“ she said.

Santa Rosa School Board Vice President Omar Medina — who previously opposed the district’s school resource officer program — said that it wasn’t clear yet that a police officer on campus would have made a difference Wednesday.

“Whether an SRO was on campus or not. I don't know if anything would have been different in terms of a weapon having been brought by that student,” he said.

In 2020, Medina was a leading voice in favor of removing school resource officers from campuses, arguing that students of color, in particular, were harmed by the presence of officers on campus in conjunction with other disciplinary policies.

The board voted 7-0 in June 2020 to suspend the partnership with the police department while creating a 32-member committee made up of teachers, students, parents, administrators, police officers and community members to examine the program.

The school board opted not to renew the program in November 2020, effectively casting aside the committee’s recommendation to reinstate it with changes.

On Wednesday, Medina said that over the last two months, as concerns over violence in schools have risen, the school board has “internally been having discussions about continuing the conversation around safety on our campuses.”

Placing school resource officers, or SROs, back on campuses should be part of that discussion, he said.

“I'm always open to conversation and to dialogue around the issue, that's important. It's important for all sides to be heard. And I really think we need to listen to everyone; I know the students need to be heard. We need to hear about their safety concerns. I'm sure that there's many students that don't feel safe, that are traumatized by what has happened today, not just at Montgomery, but at all our schools.”

He said he was not in favor of placing metal detectors on campuses, because they have the effect of “making that school feel like a prison.”

And he said he still has concerns about the impact that police officers on campus have on students of color.

“We can't ignore that. I mean, to me, part of the issue is if you, especially if you live in poor communities that are, you know, are highly policed … and if you see police like in your community, if you see police always around you and then you go to school and there's police there, it's that idea that, you know, you are a criminal, right? And so that begins to step into your mind. Well, this is what the community sees me as, is what I'm going to be.”

Santa Rosa City Schools Superintendent Anna Trunnell was unable to say Wednesday whether the district or school will have any new safety measures in place when Montgomery reopens.

"We are going to be assessing how we approach supporting our students and making sure that they know that this is a safe place. And we will be examining how exactly we're going to do that."

Libby Dalton, a parent and co-president of the Montgomery Education Foundation, said it’s a “mixed bag” of emotions that parents feel toward putting law enforcement on campus.

She said after Wednesday’s student death, the community is left with overwhelming feelings of fear, anger and sadness.

“The school did everything they could today, but the amount of fights on campus and the way the incidents are handled needs to change,” Dalton said. “Maybe a school resource officer will help that, maybe not, but we have to try something.”


More troubling displays of violence at Santa Rosa schools come to light

By James Torrez and Henry Lee

Published March 3, 2023 6:08AM

Updated 6:13AM

Santa Rosa KTVU FOX 2

Maria Carrillo High in Santa Rosa, saying they don’t feel safe after an arson fire & gun incident on campus as well as a stabbing that killed Jayden Pienta, 16, (pic) at Montgomery High. They say @SRCSchools
needs to do more.

Montgomery High School in Santa Rosa remained closed on Friday after a deadly stabbing of one of its students. Over the last two weeks, parents are hearing messages from their school district that would scare any parent: Reports of fires, guns and stabbings. James Torrez reports

SANTA ROSA, Calif. - Students at Maria Carrillo High School in Santa Rosa held a rally and walked out of class on Friday in the wake of two troubling incidents on campus and the deadly stabbing of a 16-year-old boy at Montgomery High School.

Hundreds of students left Maria Carrillo High and walked on the sidewalk down Montecito Boulevard.

"I'm in protest of the violence! I'm in protest of the lack of safety!" one girl said through a bullhorn while flanked by fellow students.

They voiced frustration that more isn't being done to ensure their safety. They say there needs to be better access to mental-health counseling and far better security at their campuses.

Parents and students now want to call attention to other troubling safety concerns in the school district – and some are calling to bring school resource officers back to campus.

Over the last two weeks, community members are hearing messages from their school district that would scare any parent: Reports of fires, guns and stabbings.

MORE: Mother of injured teen whose friend was fatally stabbed at school speaks out

On Wednesday, police reported a 15-year-old freshman at Montgomery High stabbed two other students during a fight in an art classroom. One of those students, 16-year-old Jayden Pienta, was killed.

16-year-old Jayden Pienta.

Also on Wednesday, Santa Rosa police arrested another student for bringing an unloaded gun to Maria Carillo High School nearby.

At that same high school more than a week ago, police arrested a 16-year-old student on suspicion on arson for setting a fire near the school building. The boy set a leaf on fire and threw it into a refrigerator, police said.

Students at Maria Carrillo say they're fed up.

"We don’t feel safe, we don’t feel protected and we know that we’re in danger regularly and they do nothing about it and they don’t tell us the full truth," said student Camille George.

Another student Talia Voit agreed, saying, "The poor communication in the school system is horrible. Like we don’t even know anything. Our parents get the information before us."

At Montgomery High, students took their safety concerns straight to the police chief.

"Why has it taken a loss of life for you guys to start caring about this school?" a student asked Santa Rosa Police Chief John Cregan at a news conference on Thursday.

The chief responded, "I think it's important to understand the Santa Rosa Police Department did not remove the SROs from school campus. That was a decision by the Santa Rosa school board. As a chief, that's something I've advocated for us to return to."

Some are now questioning the school board's decision to end its partnership with the police department and get rid of school resources assigned to middle and high schools.

That partnership ended in 2020 following the death of George Floyd and the reaction around the country to limit police interactions with community members, including students.

Some experts, though, including a former Santa Rosa school resource officer, say it's not clear if an SRO would have prevented the deadly stabbing.

The next regular school board meeting is scheduled for Wednesday.

For now, school leaders say they are focusing on immediate physical and emotional needs of students and staff.

Maria Carrillo High in Santa Rosa, saying they don’t feel safe after an arson fire & gun incident on campus as well as a stabbing that killed Jayden Pienta, 16, (pic) at Montgomery High. They say @SRCSchools
needs to do more.


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