By Patric Hedlund
On March 7 LeeAnn Walker took her daughter out of Frazier Mountain High School in fear for her safety.
On January 16 the mother of four had stood before the El Tejon Unified School District Board of Trustees to tell them of her daughter being chased through the corridors of FMHS by a boy waving a razor blade, threatening to slash her.
"Why does this boy have more rights than my daughter?" Walker asked the trustees. The board members did not reply because her statement was not an agenda item, but Superintendent Shelly Mason spoke to her at a break in the meeting about the concerns. "I feel as if she is telling me what she thinks I want to hear, without taking action," Walker said.
The following day Walker went to talk with FMHS Principal Dan Penner. She reports that the youth (referred to here as ‘K’ in the interest of maintaining the confidentiality of a minor) is a sophomore with learning disabilities and, according to Walker, a possible prior incarceration for behavior problems. She said he has a history of harassing and stalking her daughter for over two years, first at El Tejon School, and now at FMHS.
"When he stole her cell phone in 7th grade, I called it and he answered," Walker says. "He had been calling her at home on her own stolen phone to taunt her." She went to try to find his parents in Lebec. When she finally found the family’s house, she says, the parents were responsible and concerned. They ordered ‘K’ to return the stolen phone to Walker’s daughter, she reports, but the harassment continued.
"I do not hold anything against the parents or even the boy," Walker said in an interview in January. "He has a need to be in a higher security learning environment. I hold the school principal responsible. The school is not staffed to provide the supervision ‘K’ needs and that puts my daughter at risk."
Walker said Penner assured her that he would take action. The following week Walker was surprised to learn that ‘K’ was going to school on the same campus, but at the Continuation High School across the parking lot from the main school. "It is easy to mingle between the schools," Walker said, expressing concern.
Then, on March 7 she learned ‘K’ was again attending classes at the main high school. "That was it," she said as she consulted with members of the community to whom she had expressed her dismay. She was concerned that the boy was attending classes next to her daughter and asked why she was "not even notified." She went to the school and brought her two daughters home.
"They will not go back to the school until I know they will be safe," she said firmly in a telephone interview Friday, March 7. "The vice principal said ‘K’ has a right to an education, and that the superintendent said to let him return to regular classes. Well, my daughter has a right to an education too, and she has a right to not be afraid."
Walker reports she met with Superintendent Mason on Monday, March 10, who asked the mother if she had filed a restraining order against ‘K’ and whether she has a lawyer.
Mason and Penner have not yet answered this reporter’s emails and phone messages asking about policies and practices in place on campus to handle students with special needs who may exhibit violent or threatening behavior.
"How are students protected from such behavior? Why did the student not have supervision at the time he threatened the razor blade attack?" Lee- Ann Walker asks.
She raises other questions: Do parents need to file a restraining order before the school will keep students safe? How can the district assign someone to monitor one student for all his time at the school, when it faces budget cuts and the need to lay off teachers?
Note: Ostrich or American Eagle?
The Mountain Enterprise notes a disturbing trend: ETUSD officials shy away from answering questions about difficult issues which the community most needs to understand.
We have started a public responsiveness rating. This story (Is My Child Safe?) rates four ostriches for lack of public accountability, on a scale of five. We look forward to awarding some American Eagles.
This is part of the March 14, 2008 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.
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