Citizens sound alarm regarding school safety concerns
By John Gregory
The horrific mass shooting on May 24 at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, resulting in the deaths of 19 students and two teachers, spurred a small group of concerned Scripps Ranch parents to insist authorities take action immediately regarding a looming threat they perceived in this community.
The citizens were already active due to reports of incidents involving a young adult male with mental health issues in Scripps Ranch who allegedly displayed troubling behavior several times within the past year at or near four schools – Jerabek Elementary, Miramar Ranch Elementary, Marshall Middle and Scripps Ranch High (SRH) – including an incident at Jerabek in May 2021 resulting in court action.
Parent Erik Strahm – who became active in asking authorities for a response to an incident in May involving the subject at SRHS – was in the midst of typing a letter to San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) on May 24 when he learned of the shooting in Uvalde. Strahm was consulting with Anna Tarvyd Klein, another concerned parent, when the two determined the letter needed to be much stronger. They believed the danger posed by the subject in Scripps Ranch raised too many red flags to be ignored.
Strahm sent the letter demanding SDUSD take immediate action, and posted it as a petition on social media. It gained more than 1,400 signatures.
CBS News Channel 8 aired a story about worried parents in Scripps Ranch on May 26.
SDUSD responded to the parents on May 27, and the parents group sent another letter, stating they wanted these actions immediately, including “Provide security at all four campuses whenever students are present.” The parent letter stressed, “it is critical that the four principals of these schools are working together on this issue.”
They also asked, “When will these processes be complete and all of the staff trained? How will this be communicated to parents?” and explained, “It is critical that the four principals of these schools are working together on this issue,” and “We need a single district representative that will be responsible and responsive in these discussions. Time is critical …”
SDUSD officials met with the parents for one hour on May 31. Officials attending the meeting included SDUSD administration, the general counsel of SDUSD and a captain of the SDUSD Police Services.
That meeting brought about these revelations, according to Strahm: there is a breakdown in communication within the district and the schools; and there is significant confusion about how incidents should be reported, he said. Strahm noted that the SDUSD Police only recorded four incidents involving the person of interest although the parents reported several more.
“Overall, what we want is our kids to be protected, we want our teachers to be protected, we want our schools to be protected,” Strahm said. “What we need to happen right now is communication. … communication from the district to the schools, from the schools to the families, and between the schools. It’s completely broken.”
SDUSD Area 4 Superintendent Monika Hazel circulated an email to Scripps Ranch parents on June 2 outlining steps the district implemented including communication with the District Attorney’s Office and San Diego Police Department (SDPD), and providing additional campus security at schools. In fact, a police car was seen patrolling SRHS the evening of June 3 as campus events were underway.
The email also stated that SDUSD had renewed a stay away order for the subject in question; and was reviewing safety protocols at area schools.
The Scripps Ranch Civic Association arranged a June 8 public Zoom meeting about safety in Scripps Ranch with SDUSD and city law enforcement officials. Strahm said he appreciated the efforts of those who participated in this meeting, noting there was an obvious lack of communication still within the SDUSD.
On June 20, Strahm posted a follow-up to that meeting: “The SDUSD SR area superintendent shared her willingness to hear community concerns and reiterated that her objective was to keep our schools safe. There was much discussion about communication to the schools that reaches the teachers and the community. It was apparent that there were significant issues with this level of communication. It wasn’t clear how the security concerns would be communicated to the summer schools admins and staff,” he wrote.
Strahm emphasized there are unresolved issues going forward, asking residents to report dangerous incidents and to ask principals about their security action plan. Most notably, Strahm wrote: “It was made clear that the SDUSD Police do not have the time or resources to provide a full security review at our campuses.”
Meanwhile, a June 6 court hearing regarding the incident between the aforementioned subject and two men at Jerabek in May 2021 resulted in a judge accepting a plea agreement and ordering the defendant to continue with six months of mental health treatment as well as staying 100 yards away from Jerabek Elementary School, Jerabek Park, Miramar Ranch Elementary School, Marshall Middle School and Scripps Ranch High School for one year. The man was also ordered to forfeit all weapons and not to interact with Gap Armory – which sells ghost gun parts online.
The subject’s parents circulated a letter to the community around their home via the neighborhood community association management company, explaining their plight dealing with their son’s mental illness, asking anyone to contact them if they have an encounter with him, and asking for understanding.
While Scripps Ranch is relatively peaceful, similar incidents are not new.In January 2018 a parent volunteer spotted and confronted a suspicious womanwho falsely claimed she was picking up a child on the campus of Miramar Ranch Elementary. She was escorted from the grounds and the incident was reported to the San Diego Police Department. In the wake of a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in February 2018, SDUSD fast-tracked funds to improve school safety in San Diego, including a taller perimeter fence and extra lighting which was installed at Miramar Ranch Elementary in March that same year.
Strahm recently outlined his impressions from this entire experience dealing with the school district about school safety concerns: Communication is a big problem; schools are woefully underprepared for a dangerous situation; school sites need a security review and personnel need emergency training; and if anyone sees anything suspicious, they should call 9-1-1 and document it with photos.
An example of communication problems is highlighted by an email to SRHS parents from SRHS Principal Matt Lawson on June 6 following a previous email from SDUSD area superintendent Monika Hazel just hours earlier that day. Lawson’s email contradicted Hazel’s notice which included SRHS as one of the schools in which an incident occurred. “To my knowledge the person of interest has not attempted to enter our campus, nor have I been made aware of any similar incidents on our campus,” Lawson wrote.
The problem is not moot just because the past school year ended. As mentioned earlier, there are concerns about whether the steps and policies for additional safety have been communicated to school officials overseeing summer school on local campuses. The citizen-led grassroots efforts continue. Those wishing to help may email firstname.lastname@example.org.