‘I want to feel safe.’ Students, teachers speak out following violent week at Fresno High

LARRY VALENZUELA/lvalenzuela@fresnobee.com

Students and teachers again called on Fresno Unified leadership to improve campus safety following a particularly violent week at Fresno High School.

Two people were stabbed just off campus Jan. 18, and one student was arrested in a confrontation police described as some kind of “high school issue.” Two days later, three Fresno High students were arrested following a brawl that brought Fresno police to the campus.

“I don’t want a committee. I don’t want a focus group,” Fresno High teacher Jose Sandoval told the school board Wednesday night. I don’t want anything but action.”

He was joined by seven other students, teachers, and concerned community members who echoed calls to expedite new safety measures to prevent incidents like this — or worse — from occurring.

Some of the most common requests: improve the fencing and gates around campus. Install more security cameras. Hire additional counselors and campus safety assistants.

Josselyn Sandoval, Fresno High’s senior class president, shared with the board that her survey of 197 students on campus showed support for bringing on more campus safety assistants and cameras.

“I love Fresno High. I’m proud to be a class president there, and I love being involved,” she said, “but I want to feel safe on my campus. And so do these students.”

The comments came during “unscheduled oral communications” on subjects outside of that night meeting’s agenda, which the board may not take action on except in limited cases required by law. Board President Veva Islas told the speakers not to interpret that as a show of “disinterest” from the board.

“Our inability to have a discussion right now is really driven by mandates about having something that’s not agendized,” she said.

“I appreciate all of the comments that were made tonight,” she added. “As someone who believes deeply in prevention, I hear you and my heart is full with all of the sentiment around moving to prevention and less intervention.”

The district didn’t immediately respond to follow-up questions about the safety measures students and teachers demanded.

Campus safety and security have been frequent topics of discussion within Fresno Unified in recent years and a repeated source of criticism from teachers who have said they don’t feel the district has done enough to protect classrooms.

At a board meeting last month, eight staff members at another Fresno Unified school — Wawona K-8 — pleaded with the board for more support in response to increased fights between and threats from students on campus.

Last school year, an incident at Pyle Elementary in which a parent barged into a classroom full of third graders to threaten a teacher sparked a particularly tense debate over teachers’ safety.

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