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One Month After School Stabbing, Santa Rosa Students, Parents and Teachers See Different Solutions to Safety

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Three young people appearing to be high school aged stand equal distance apart, posing for the camera with protest signs they made, on red paper with the visible words 'his life mattered' and 'they don't care about us'
From left to right, students Camryn Rodgers, Harley Rodgers and Cayden Rodgers hold signs during a student walkout at Santa Rosa's Montgomery High School on March 6, following the fatal classroom stabbing of a student on March 1. A new school safety advisory group, including students, will help decide whether police should return to district campuses. (Aryk Copley/KQED)

Santa Rosa students, parents and teachers remain torn on solutions for making their schools safer. It has now been more than a month since the fatal stabbing in an art classroom at Santa Rosa’s Montgomery High School, and differing approaches to police presence and overall supervision are being heard in school board meetings, student organizing groups and a new school safety advisory group.

While many parents and teachers look toward reinstating safety resource officers (SROs), students are emphasizing a need for expanded mental health resources, deescalation training and increased funding for restorative justice programs.

SROs — armed officers with the Santa Rosa Police Department who patrolled high school campuses and had the power to make arrests — were removed from all campuses by the Santa Rosa City Schools District in 2020, in the wake of nationwide protests over the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police.

“I don’t think that [SROs] are the best method of creating a safer campus,” Montgomery junior Vianna Laham told KQED. “I would rather there be more therapists and campus supervisors because there already isn’t enough.”

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On March 1, Montgomery freshman Daniel Pulido, 15, stabbed 16-year-old junior Jayden Pienta during a classroom fight. Pulido, who has been in juvenile detention since the killing, was expected to be arraigned on charges of voluntary manslaughter on March 30, but that hearing has been postponed until May 4.

The rest of the school week after the incident was canceled, and the following week hundreds of students participated in walkouts, marches and demands for action at every major high school within the district. Hundreds of students, parents and staff also came together at an evening listening session, where they pleaded with district officials to do more to safeguard schools against violence.

North Bay Organizing Project organizer Joy Ayodele has been working with students from the start to help them organize walkouts and solidify their demands.

“Rather than investment in SROs, they were thinking that they need further investment in mental health services on campus,” said Ayodele, who organized her first demonstration in 2020 in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, when she was just 18. “Not just the typical school counselors that they have but actual mental health professionals that are able to offer them that assistance on campus.”

Each high school in the district has what Superintendent Anna Trunnell calls a “multitiered system of support” counselor, a college and career counselor, one school-based therapist and one mental health counselor specifically to help with academic anxieties.

Laham says to her knowledge there is only one permanent therapist for Montgomery High’s campus of 1,600 students.

‘I am fully in support of police on campus’

At a board meeting March 29, many parents showed their support for officers on campus.

“I am fully in support of police on campus and embedded in the school setting starting in kindergarten,” said parent Sarah Jenkins during public comments.

Montgomery High teacher Margret Buhn told the school board about how a student in one of her classes was worried they were going to get jumped by their fellow classmates two weeks after the stabbing.

Buhn and the student’s family wrote emails to the administration and superintendent Trunnell, yet said they were told little could be done. On March 27, the student was attacked.

“As a teacher, I want to protect my students, and I tried to do just that,” Buhn said at the board meeting. “As teachers collectively, we feel desperation to address this. I asked in my email last night if we had learned anything from the tragedy that had just happened. In light of this incident, I feel we have not learned enough.”

‘I’m not hearing students root for SROs’

Santa Rosa students district-wide share a similar sentiment, and in their list of demands say their district has failed them. But Ayodele says the students aren’t asking for quick fixes or police.

“I’m not hearing students root for SROs or anything along those lines. I’m hearing them present actual, you know, initiatives that they want to support,” she says.

According to Ayodele, students at Montgomery want more funding for their restorative justice programs. She says these programs are underfunded and students are on waitlists district-wide.

“If I had the power, I would add trained [administrators] to the campus who have the capability to assess a situation quickly or prevent it,” Montgomery sophomore Lyla Snyder told KQED.

A group of students who appear to be high school aged stand together outside with trees in the background and one visible sign on white paper with red ink, reading 'we will get jutice'
Students participate in a walkout at Montgomery High School in Santa Rosa on March 6, in the wake of the fatal March 1 stabbing of 16-year-old Jayden Pienta in an art classroom. (Aryk Copley/KQED)

In the weeks following the stabbing, Superintendent Trunnell issued a series of action items, including temporary counseling services and the introduction of a safety advisory group, which held its first meeting on Tuesday.

The Safety Advisory Roundtable (SART), a 30-member body made up of students, parents, teachers, school staff and community members and facilitated by Trunnell, will discuss solutions and action related to the four pillars the district lists on its website: safety and security, mental health and counseling, communication and transparency, and facilities.

SROs will be a pressing item on the group’s agenda, and Trunnell said decisions made about their potential return will be up to the committee.

“We will not see SROs come back in the way they were previously,” Trunnell told KQED. “I believe that from this work, we will more than likely place a recommendation before the school board on a type of position more focused on safety and security.”

Trunnell is still unsure about what that will look like, but said SART is working toward making recommendations ahead of school board meetings, with the next one on April 12.

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