A recent violent stabbing on a sidewalk next to Fresno High School has reignited concerns among teachers, students, and their parents about safety on the campus. A handful of them brought those concerns to the School Board at Wednesday’s meeting, saying that students and teachers don’t feel safe, and that the district needs to do something about it.
But the answer is not more police, said Jose Solorio, who repeated the catchphrase “counselors, not cops,” which surfaced a few years ago when the board was deliberating whether to renew contracts with the Fresno Police Department and Fresno County Sheriff’s Office to employ officers and deputies as school resource officers.
After a series of district-led surveys showed strong support among staff, parents, and students for police on campus, trustees voted for the contracts.
Focus on Campus Assistants
The Fresno High speakers on Wednesday urged the district to add campus assistants, who provide some security, and to better train the campus assistants who are already on the campus.
The day after the stabbing incident, a gate that is one of the entry points to the central Fresno high school — the city’s oldest — was manned by a campus assistant, but the following day no one was there and the gate was wide open, history teacher Jose Sandoval said.
Arts teacher Amy Kohl said students are regularly exposed to gang fights on Weldon Avenue, which is not as heavily fenced as other parts of the campus.
English teacher Anoush Ekparian told the board that last week after the school experienced two lockdowns, students who had substitute teachers reported that the subs apparently were unfamiliar with safety procedures.
The district also needs to reconsider the budgeting formula for campus safety assistants, given that Fresno High has a higher population of students deemed more vulnerable and “marginal,” she said.
The Fresno High School website lists the names of six campus safety assistants and a blank space for a seventh position.
“I know you care about students,” Ekparian said. “The timelines for safety measures need to be expedited.”
Safety Team to Assess
Trustee Andy Levine, who represents the Fresno High region, said after the meeting that the district’s safety team was scheduled to go to the school Thursday. Chief of Staff Ambra O’Connor said the team will do a “full assessment” at the school, including reviewing entrances and campus assistants.
Levine said he didn’t see any mixed message from the Fresno High speakers who said they want more security and safety but fewer cops.
“So campus assistants are different from SROs, they’re not law enforcement,” he said. “Certainly they are there for a level of safety, but they’re there to sort of be a positive presence for students and keep an eye on the campus, but also the gates around campus. And so what I hear very clearly from students and teachers and parents is that they want to make sure that we have adequate training for those campus assistants.”
Levine acknowledged that Fresno High needs more campus assistants and mental health supports, given the school’s higher proportion of students with special needs, including foster and homeless kids.
“I heard very clearly from students like needing clarity on who to go to, but also that the current staff in that area is overwhelmed themselves,” he said. “And so making sure we’re doing whatever we need to do to make sure that they’ve got the capacity, but also that students have a safe place to go and talk so that everybody feels safe on campus.”
Trustee Susan Wittrup, who represents the Bullard High region, told GV Wire on Thursday that she shared with deputy superintendent Misty Her several resources from the National Association of School Psychologists on preventing school violence.
“Some of these practices are already in place at FUSD schools,” Wittrup, a former school psychologist, said in a text message. “However, several important components are missing or are simply not being consistently implemented. Training and supervision are key.
“Investment in safety has to be the priority on all levels, including school site staff, students, parents, the board, and the community at large. How faithfully we implement and follow these basic practices at every school can make the difference between life and death.”