VC seeks to calm fears following incidents

By Jared Castañeda
Posted 2/14/24

The Valley Central High School went on hold for its last two class periods, followed by a staggered dismissal, after two student altercations occurred last Friday, February 9 at the beginning of the …

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VC seeks to calm fears following incidents


The Valley Central High School went on hold for its last two class periods, followed by a staggered dismissal, after two student altercations occurred last Friday, February 9 at the beginning of the day. No students were injured and several security and police officers were present to ensure orderly conduct.

Evette Avila, the school district superintendent, wrote an update on the school’s webpage the same day stating that the incidents involved a small group of students that were addressed by the school’s Code of Conduct. She assured parents that the school district prioritizes safety above all else and will continue striving for a “positive and respectful school environment.”

Avila also dispelled rumors surrounding the incidents and discouraged students from spreading misinformation online.

“There have been rumors and reports of possible occurrences, however, each have been determined to be non-credible,” she wrote. “Please speak with your child about the appropriate use of technology and reporting accurate information. If at any time you have information that you believe we should be aware of, please contact your child’s principal.”

The next day, Avila posted another online update clarifying that no other incidents occurred on February 9 beyond the two altercations. She emphasized that misinformation on social media created distractions for students and staff during that day and advised parents to speak with the district directly for factual details.

Throughout the day, messages and posts were made to other students as well as to parents indicating that other altercations were occurring in separate parts of the building,” Avila wrote. “When there is misinformation, due to mass texting and posting amongst the student population, this creates a heightened state as well as a distraction from the instructional day.”

“I urge parents to keep communication open not just with your child, but also with the school district,” she continued. “Please exercise caution when viewing postings, as some incidents and information posted are not yesterday’s incidents, nor current, nor within our school district, and may be distorted.

Avila addressed the issue at greater length at Monday night’s board of education meeting.

“I understand the level of concern and severity of issues regarding the incidents that occurred on Friday, February night at the high school,”she said. “As I shared in an early email, we will continue to investigate and have a parent meeting scheduled for after the February break to share the findings. At this time, I would like to share some initial findings.”

Avila said there were “multiple things” that occurred simultaneously that contribute to miscommunication.

“And it was chaotic,” she continued. “Students felt uncomfortable and they were uncertain and some even felt unsafe.”

The superintendent said in some instances, students were conjugated in groups and staff directed them to break up and go to their classes, which initially appeared to be a fight in process. This happened several times during the day.

Avila said some of the footage shared on social media of supposed fights did not occur on Friday and, in some cases, did not take place on school grounds. She referenced one incident that actually took place in front of a Walmart store.

Stephen Ragni, Director of Security and Emergency Preparedness also spoke at Monday night’s meeting after spending a portion of the day visiting classrooms and speaking with staff and students.

“It was evident that a clear and consistent message was communicated. We will be taking swift and severe actions against harmful and violent student behavior as well as providing ongoing support for our students and staff,” Ragni said. “Our goal is to bring the focus back to instruction and learning where it belongs. We will continue to work with our SROs (School Resource Officers) and security to identify those students involved in disrupting the educational process.”

Ragni urged parents to speak to their children about the dangers of social media and how to use it appropriately. Studies have shown that social media negatively impacts student health and wellness and increases depression and anxiety.

During the public portion of Monday’s meeting, a number of parents and students voiced their concerns.

“I’m not here to discuss the altercations in and of themselves. I’m here to discuss the way that admin decided to enhance these altercations. I’ve heard term protocols being said but no one seems to explain what the protocols actually are,” said one unidentified parent. “I’ve heard the phrase progressive discipline being thrown around and I for one would like to know exactly what that’s supposed to mean. I know when I attended school in this district for my entire school year, for my entire school career, there was always a zero tolerance policy for altercations.”

The parent asked how the students who started the fights would be disciplined?

“To my understanding, you have no problem setting forth punishments to those who took video of said altercations, but basically give individuals involved a pat on the back saying, they’re there, it’s okay, you’re not you when you’re angry, have a Snickers,” the parent said. “And sending them back to their class. I think as there are strict policies set forward for tardiness, absences, and bullying, there should also be extremely strict policies set forth for situations like these. The response to play thus far does not show that happening. And it is quite frankly shameful and disrespectful to those students that come to school every day and do their best to make it through their day.”

Ariana Sosa, a senior at Valley Central, said the situation created a high level of anxiety among the students.

“Many times throughout that day, I was walking, all of a sudden heard screaming,” Sosa said. “There was shoving phones out everywhere, and people running to see where the next event was going to happen. Whether it was physical, whether it was verbal, whether it was just people getting ready to circle up and watch something happen.

“While there may have been between two and five actual physical interactions, that entire day, there was something going on that can cause high levels of anxiety, high levels of stress, high levels of not knowing where the next safe spot is going to be to get you. The fact that we had to have a hold in place between eighth period through the end of the day is not okay. It’s just not acceptable and these things shouldn’t be happening in a place where we are supposed to be boring.”

Sosa called for more preventive steps, instead of doing things after the fact.

“What happened Friday was not something that should ever happen in any school, especially in a school that really doesn’t have a history of such mess. And it’s just not something that I’m proud to say. I witnessed and had to experience from a school that I enjoy going to. I appreciate every single one of my teachers who have had open discussions and who have done things to prevent the altercations that they saw happening outside their classrooms and helping the students who were in the line of fire from these things happening. And I just hope that something like this will never happen again after we know better steps to take.”