Cloverdale Unified board president responds to parents’ anger over fight at Washington | #students | #parents


Responding to comments by angry parents about the recent arrests of four Washington School students involved in a last-day-of school fight, Cloverdale Unified School District Board President Jacque Garrison said “students’ conduct has changed” everywhere since the pandemic.

She also said fights at the middle school, in particular, have not increased, despite claims to the contrary during a June 15 board meeting where parents lined up to take the district, and particularly Superintendent Betha MacClain, to task over the issues with student behavior.

“Things have gotten worse in schools across the country following the pandemic and students’ return to school after a year and a half away from regular school routines,” Garrison wrote in a June 17 response to emailed Press Democrat questions. “Student conduct has changed, and we have seen an increase in emotional behavior, outbursts and conflict since we came back in August. In consulting with other districts, we know this is something that every school has been working to address.”

In a video of the June 9 fight posted on social media, an eighth-grade girl who is fighting with another eighth-grade girl on the ground is kicked in the head by at least three other students, while others egg them on. Three students were arrested on suspicion of felony assault, while a fourth was arrested on a misdemeanor. The four have since been released to their parents.

The mother of the girl who was kicked said she alerted school authorities about the fight after she received a frightened call from her daughter. , On June 15, she gave the board an emotional statement about what took place: “These kids could have killed my daughter, or caused brain damage,” she said. “I gave (officials) the (students’) names. I said exactly who was going to fight her. My daughter went to the hospital. She didn’t even want to be here. This was her first time (at the school); we moved from Santa Rosa. This is unbelievable.”

Garrison said she found the video of the fight “disturbing to watch. I completely understand and empathize with the parents and community who are upset, angry and frustrated. I’m saddened that students feel violence is how to a resolve a problem.”

She pointed out that MacClain and the board had sent a note home to parents on June 13 about the fight, saying the district is creating “a task force of mental health professionals, community partners and educators to collaborate with staff and families in sustaining healthy safe and supportive schools and communities. CUSD has also committed funding to support the establishment of a campus resource officer in the 2022-2023 school year.”

Garrison added that “it’s important to note that while we offer support systems, in order for them to work and have positive outcomes, we cannot force people to accept the services if they aren’t ready or don’t believe the services will help.”

At the beginning of the meeting, she read a statement from the board about the fight that said, in part, “Beyond identifying and punishing those involved, we are evaluating our systems and procedures to make sure an event like this does not happen again.”

It also said, “Once investigations are completed and within our authority as a school board, the board will assign appropriate discipline to those found to have violated district rules and board policies, education code, state law or federal law. Discipline may include restorative practices, youth diversion counseling, suspension or expulsion and, in the case of criminal activity, reports will be made to appropriate law enforcement or Child Protective Services.”

Parent Osagiator Ogiamien told the board during its meeting, “What is happening currently is not acceptable. … My only concern is what is the solution, because we can’t have kids being beat up at school; you can’t have a parent telling them about a fight beforehand and nothing being done.”

He offered to act as a playground supervisor.

Shayna Zaragoza told the board she was there to “ask again to stop the fighting” and other issues at Washington School. “Enough is enough — the superintendent has failed our children.”

Parent and community activist Angela Cordova said before the meeting there have been reports of drug deals going on at the school through the fence. She said many parents said their children didn’t feel safe to walk home from school because of all the fights going on.

“How are you focusing on safety? That (fight) should not have happened on our school grounds. The gap between the school district and the community is growing,” Vicente Duarte said. “The students are not only angry but they fear for their safety now. When all of you were (running for) your seats, we heard, ‘I care about the students.’”

Cordova, who coordinates the Community of Cloverdale Facebook page, where she organizes protests on community issues, and live streamed the meeting through her phone, didn’t mince words when it was her turn to speak.

“I’m asking for the immediate suspension and removal of Betha MacClain. She made this mess and you allowed her to do this,” she told the board. “How does the district plan to staff our schools at this point? Staff has reached out to me and said they were leaving. They don’t want to work for the current administration.”

She and others have been unhappy with conditions at the school since Principal Mark Lucchetti was put on administrative leave.

“From Feb. 28 (when Lucchetti left) I would like to hear the number of suspensions. I heard they are higher than normal. … When do you stop blaming everything on COVID?” she asked.

Garrison told The Press Democrat that “Any fight is too many. There is a close focus on what is happening in our schools, particularly Washington, and the fights we have had have been widely video recorded and viewed.”

Neither MacClain nor current Washington School Principal John Markatos has not returned calls asking how the fight could have happened on campus during lunch time without supervision.

When asked why she thinks parents and community members blame MacClain for the fights that have occurred at Washington School, Garrison said “I think that when something happens that people don’t agree with or is upsetting, people feel the need to blame someone. That person is typically the person in charge. In this case, it’s the superintendent.”

You can reach Staff Writer Kathleen Coates at kathleen.coates@pressdemocrat.com or 707-521-5209.



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