Santa Monica High School administrators ordered a campus lockdown last Friday after a fight erupted during the lunch period between Latino and African American students. At a hastily called community meeting Monday evening at the school’s Barnum Hall, Samohi principal Ilene Straus said that there have been “continual conflicts between girls and girls, boys and girls, and girls and boys” this school year that the adminstration has attempted to deal with. Friday morning, after several scuffles during the mid-morning break, the administration decided to call in the police for the lunch period. During lunch, Straus said, “There were a couple of fights on the main quad and kids started to run towards it. It’s like when we’re driving on the freeway and slow down to look at an accident to see what’s happening. Then, there were one or two problems on the science quad and kids ran there and so the noise and crowd moved. We began to see a large crowd in the science quad. About 20 minutes into the lunch period, I made the decision to stop lunch and the reason for that is I wanted to get the kids to go back to class. I got on the intercom and asked the kids to go to class. The police that were here in the circle helped me by using their car microphones to tell the kids to back to class. I got on the intercom again to say ‘go back to class’ because we’re very concerned about safety and we need you to go back to class and if you don’t, we’re going to start arresting you. It took about 30 minutes to get everyone to go back to class.” Straus went on to say that while there were a few bloody noses, there were no serious injuries, and there is no evidence that any weapons were used. According to Straus, only 10 to 12 students were actually fighting. “There were no arrests at all. Our intent was to have kids go back to class….a couple of kids got very hot and were handcuffed to cool them off after they ignored repeated requests to return to class by police and others. After they cooled down, they were released to their parents.” Straus said that she called for the campus lockdown after students had gone to their fifth period classes, because she didn’t want large numbers of students crossing the campus on their way to their sixth period classes. With the aid of the police and her administrators, Straus sent students home in stages, between 2:30 and 4:30 p.m. to avoid any further clashes on campus or in the surrounding neighborhood. Last Saturday, Straus told the Mirror that there have been “tensions between blacks and Latino students throughout the year” and that her administration had been meeting with the students involved and their parents. She also noted that only 30 to 40 students were involved, which amounts to about one percent of the 3,500-plus student body. In an interview with the Mirror, Santa Monica Police Lieutenant Frank Fabrega stated that his department received a call at 12:44 p.m. Friday that there was fighting at the school and help was needed. His department then called for assistance from the Beverly Hills and Culver City Police Departments. More than 20 officers from the three cities “helped patrol the perimeter of the school.” Officers also questioned students who had either witnessed or been involved in the fighting, but an investigation of the incident is not ongoing, according to Fabrega. However, any student who was the victim of an assault should contact the police department. Monday morning, Santa Monica police officers who specialize in working with youth were on duty at the entrances to the Samohi campus and will be there for the rest of the week to ensure the campus remains calm. Students who were involved in the fighting have been suspended from school for five days, which is standard District policy. At the Monday night meeting, Straus said that teachers had discussed the incident with students earlier that day, and had pointed out that the school’s rules often differ from family rules and that there are “differences between how cultures resolve conflict.” She also invited people at the meeting to provide any information or suggestions that might help the school to prevent such an incident from occurring again. Superintendent of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District John Deasy said that the school’s administration will “always err on the side of extreme caution” when dealing with a volatile situation, adding that through its curriculum the school will stress Martin Luther King’s “non-violent belief system and core way of acting” and that parents should be “modeling non-violence as a way of conflict resolution.” On Sunday, Deasy told the Mirror that there was “no evidence that this incident was gang related.” Though the fights appeared to have been triggered by racial tensions, he said we “don’t want to paint every black and Latino student.” He went on to say that, in his opinion, “being a spectator to a fight is as problematic as engaging in fighting.” Since no weapons were used, Deasy doesn’t “think there is a need for metal detectors at the high school” and he characterized the lockdown as “a strong precautionary measure” to prevent more fighting. Monday’s meeting also included questions and suggestions from parents. An African American parent complained to officials that his son had helped to break up a fight, but had been suspended. A Latino parent said that black and Latino students are viewed “as second class citizens by the administration” and that when Latino parents organize and complain to the administration “they are not listened to.” Another Latino parent stated his child was met with a negative “attitude” by officials during his release from school on Friday because he is Latino. Another African American parent angrily stated that, “all black and brown students are not gang members” and then suggested that blacks and Latinos talk to students of color about not fighting. A representative from an African American parents’ support group suggested that “kids who were fighting should become part of the solution.” Another representative from the same group recommended that the Latino and black parent groups form a coalition to help stem the violence. An 11th grade student felt the administration was not sensitive enough to the warning signs that the tensions were going to erupt into violence. She asked, “How many clues do you need?”Finally, a Latino parent told the school’s administrators “If you want to solve the problem you have to understand it. It’s about a lot of students with Ds and Fs who are struggling and about racism and bias.”
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