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School Safety Talks Planned Day After Santa Rosa Student Walkout Over Fatal Campus Stabbing

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a group of young people holding red signs with images stand outside.
Quintin Olivia (center left) and Harley Rodgers (center right) protest the Montgomery High School administration after a fatal stabbing incident left one student dead and another injured the previous week, in Santa Rosa on March 6, 2023. (Aryk Copley/KQED)

About 200 students walked out of Montgomery High School in Santa Rosa on Monday, demanding stronger school safety measures, a week after a student was stabbed to death inside a classroom.

"It should not take a student's death to get our voices heard," Quintin Olivia, a junior at the school, said during the rally. "The fact that they walked themselves up to the office, a student called 911, the parents weren't aware. And, like, literally during the lockdown teachers were still giving tests. One of my friends was still taking a test."

The school district will hold a community listening session on school safety Tuesday evening, and an additional student-led walkout is planned for Wednesday at noon, followed by a march to Santa Rosa City Hall ahead of a school board meeting.

Students embrace each other.
Parents and students embrace during a walkout at Montgomery High School. (Aryk Copley/KQED)

"The only reason my teacher knew what was going on is because he had a police scanner," Olivia said. "We were finding all our information out through text message and texting each other. The administration did not communicate what was going on."

On Friday, students from Santa Rosa's Mary Carrillo High School held a similar walkout in solidarity, to draw further attention to what many consider inadequate safety protocols in the city's high schools.

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Prosecutors say a 15-year-old freshman fatally stabbed 16-year-old junior Jayden Jess Pienta and injured another classmate last Wednesday during a fight that broke out inside an art classroom. The student fled and was later found hiding in a creek bed and booked on felony charges of homicide, attempted homicide and having a weapon on a school campus last week. Prosecutors reduced the charge to manslaughter because the teen appeared to be acting in self-defense, The Press Democrat reported.

A young woman in a crowd holds a red sign with photos of people attached.
An anonymous student protests the Montgomery High School administration. (Aryk Copley/KQED)

Still, the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office says the slaying was not justified under state law.

“There was some action taken on the part of the victim that did mitigate the actions by the minor that we charged, but that we concluded did not rise to the level of complete self-defense,” Sonoma County Assistant District Attorney Brian Staebell said.

The freshman appeared in court Monday on one count of voluntary manslaughter with an enhancement for the use of a knife and one count of bringing a knife onto school grounds, the DA's office said. The teen remains in jail and is due to return to court Friday for a detention hearing.

Police say the altercation began when two groups of students were arguing last Wednesday outside the classroom. Once inside, Pienta confronted the freshman, as more than two dozen students watched.

A large group of young people walking out of building.
Students walk out of their classes at Montgomery High School. (Aryk Copley/KQED)

During the ensuing fight, the freshman stabbed Pienta at least three times, according to Santa Rosa police. Pienta was later pronounced dead at a nearby hospital.

School officials broke up the fight, but the freshman got into another brawl with a different 16-year-old junior and stabbed him once in the hand, authorities said. Police have not determined what caused the altercations.

We are still investigating the motive, but we have no significant previous criminal contacts with any of the students involved in this incident,” Santa Rosa police Sgt. Chris Mahurin said Tuesday in an email. “We are working to get school records and determine if [this] school had addressed issues between these students. We do not have those records yet.”

High school students standing outside a large building hold a sign that says 'Justice for Jayden.'
Montgomery High School students, during a walkout demanding stronger school safety measures, hold a sign demanding justice for Jayden Jess Pienta, the 16-year-old student killed last week in a fatal stabbing inside a classroom. (Aryk Copley/KQED)

Under state law, prosecutors cannot try anyone under the age of 16 as an adult. However, proceedings for certain crimes — including homicide — perpetrated by juveniles must be held in open court.

The teen’s attorney, the school district and the Montgomery High principal did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday.

This story includes reporting from KQED's Riley Palmer, Spencer Whitney and Natalia Navarro, and The Associated Press. 

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