By Freddy Jimenez
Recently, worried parents from the San Benito community met with district officials at the John F. Barron Administration Building regarding security concerns on district campuses. These concerns came after reports of school fights came to light, specifically the incident that occurred at the Veterans Memorial Academy on September 19, where two students sought medical attention and 50 others were suspended. Parents were also in attendance to address the faulty operations occurring at drop-off/pick-up zones at various district campuses.
After reports and online videos surfaced about a violent clash at the Veterans Memorial Academy in late September where students physically assaulted each other, one concerned parent, Annielou Garcia took it upon herself to vocalize her concern with the lack of security personnel on campus grounds, especially during after-school hours.
Garcia first made her concerns public on September 25 unto the SBCISD Board of Trustees who were present at a Town Hall held for discussion on the upcoming Bond Election. It was at this meeting where Garcia initially mentioned that from her experience, security guards were not present after school.
“You’re going to have children after hours to practice for band, for football. Why is there no security? We’re going to wait for another thing to happen at the VMA?” inquired Garcia of district officials at the Sept. 25 Town Hall.
To this, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Nate Carman replied that the district had added more security guards to campuses as well as eliminating the night shift for security personnel in order to have them present during the day.
Garcia was not satisfied with this answer and after insisting some more, she was met with deflection from Board President Michael A. Vargas, who instructed her to submit her concerns in writing.
Because of this, a few days later Garcia took initiative, and using the tool of social media, organized with other parents to meet with district officials to address security concerns. It was through this organization that Garcia met another concerned parent by the name of Stephanie Garcia, whose concerns regarded operations at Ed Downs Elementary.
Both Annielou and Stephanie then told the News of their interactions with district officials at this meeting.
Annielou said she and other parents met with Director of Student Services Ray Saldaña and Assistant Superintendent of Academic Services Hector Madrigal on October 1. Discussed at this meeting, said Annielou, was the removal of 24-hour security on campus grounds because the district claimed some guards were quite literally sleeping on the job. Annielou rebutted by stipulating that the district should have hired better-suited candidates for the job rather than cut hours, citing this affected the safety and security of students throughout their after-school activities.
Madrigal, said Annielou, responded by saying that the district had hired two more security guards for the San Benito High School. Annielou, though appreciative, met this with, “What about the security after school? What about ALL the schools?”
To this, said Annielou, the officials responded that security had been taken care of. Annielou, however, continued to take issue with it, citing some teachers at Angela G. Leal Elementary were being assigned to watch duty rather than preparing for class, due to a shortage of security.
From there, Annielou said the meeting shifted to the concern of pick-up operations. She claimed that on three different occasions, while trying to pick up her son after school at Ed Downs Elementary, the school had lost him or failed to effectively facilitate him to her from his classroom to her pick-up zone. On one of these occasions, Annielou said her son had been placed on the incorrect bus, instead being placed with high school kids rather one with his similar grade-level peers. Annielou recalls feeling anguish at thinking her child could be lost, aided by the fact that campus officials would not allow her, nor her husband passed the front door to search for their son.
Perhaps crystallizing the district’s apathetic attitude towards after school operations, Annielou cited that on one occasion she spent four hours walking around the SBHS campus after school facing no opposition or inquiry from anyone, freely roaming the halls at ease.
As a result of these mishaps at Ed Downs, Annielou said she withdrew her son from the campus and is now homeschooling him instead, along with his younger sister.
Stephanie Garcia, another parent who met with these district officials, said she has had similar instances at Ed Downs in which her daughter was called out to the incorrect vehicle upon being picked up after school in late August/early September. A week later, the same thing had happened to her daughter. Following this incident, she says she contacted the Ed Downs principal Manuela Lopez, who assured her things would be taken care of and that protocol would change. Stephanie proceeded to call the SBCISD Chief of Police, who said something similar as Lopez. She said she then called Saldaña around September 2-3, who she said also regurgitated the same lines, asserting Stephanie’s belief that the district will say anything to get parents to quiet down.
Testing the change in protocol, Stephanie said she attempted to pick up her daughter for a doctor’s appointment when she was met with a slight inconvenience. She says she received her tag to retrieve her daughter on queue but upon having her daughter’s name called via walkie-talkie, Lopez instantly asked the front security desk person to direct Stephanie to the front office. Stephanie took issue with this, since the security person had already cleared her pick up,and assumed operations had not been altered. She said the principal said that the security front desk person wasn’t aware of the new operations, which Stephanie found confusing and labeled as the Lopez attempting to save face. It was then she decided she was done trying to deal with Lopez and had to vocalize her concern in some way.
Subscribe here to continue reading and more, or grab a copy at one of our various newspaper racks – Thank you!