Student explusions for weapons violations are based on a zero tolerance policy that some parents are challenging.
Chilling find in students' arrests
El Dorado High diagram allegedly says 'blow up'
By M.S. Enkoji and Molly Dugan, Sacramento Bee, April 12, 2005
A search of the homes and belongings of two El Dorado High School students revealed a chilling diagram of the school, labeled with "blow up," and "shoot it up," and "end it here" above a circle, according to court papers opened Monday. Police also retrieved two rifles and a box of what they called explosives while searching the homes of the two students who have been arrested on suspicion of planning an attack on the Placerville campus. The boys, one 15 and one 16, both of Pollock Pines, were arrested on the campus March 29 on suspicion of making criminal threats, according to a police report. A count of conspiracy to commit murder was later added to the charges. The Bee is not identifying the boys because they are juveniles.
One scrap of paper seized during a search of the 15-year-old's backpack was scrawled with the words, "We are all gonna die!!!" Another said, "say goodbye to my online friends." Yet another: "empty, dead, broken, shattered why am i live."
El Dorado County District Attorney Gary Lacey said he added the elevated charge after reviewing a case summary.
"There was enough to confirm in my mind that conspiracy to commit murder is appropriate," he said.
The father of the 16-year-old defended his son Monday as a budding mechanic with a clean record. He denied that his son could have been plotting murder.
"He's never been in trouble," the father said. "He's a really good boy."
As he washed his truck in the driveway of his home, the father talked about how the two boys have been friends for six or seven years, but not particularly close.
"They didn't do anything wrong," he said. "They're good kids," he said.
His son told authorities before he was arrested that he disliked school and most of the students and that they annoy him, but that he would not shoot anyone, according to a police report.
The father said his son had been "picked on" but hadn't talked much about why. The boy never expressed anger toward his tormentors, he said.
"I always taught him to walk away," he said.
At the 15-year-old's home, a woman answering the door said no family members were home.
The alleged conspiracy was uncovered when a student told a school resources officer that he overheard the 15-year-old talking in class about bringing a gun to school and shooting several students, according to court documents. During questioning, the 15-year-old denied the conversation and instead named the 16-year-old.
The 16-year-old admitted the two had talked about Columbine during lunch that day and how they would get into the school if "they wanted to hurt students," according to a police report. But he also said neither would follow through.
The 15-year-old later admitted he had researched online the 1999 shootings at the Colorado high school that left 15 dead, including the two student gunmen.
But he denied planning his own Columbine-style attack and termed the diagram police found on him "a joke."
The crudely drawn diagram on lined notebook paper is among court documents. The words "blow up" and "plant bomb" are scrawled on blocks labeled gym and cafeteria. The words "end it here" label a circle near the center of the diagram.
The 15-year-old also said he would not hurt people, according to the police report.
The two boys were being held at juvenile hall in Placerville. Arraignment is scheduled April 25.
A search of the 16-year-old's home turned up a .22-caliber rifle and four boxes of M-5000 explosives, a notebook and a computer tower, according to court documents.
The father said his son never used the rifle, which the father said he uses for target practice. He said the explosives, given to him years ago, are "weaker than a firecracker," and that he uses them to break up rocks when he pans for gold.
At the 15-year-old's home, officers seized another .22-caliber rifle, computers, 9mm rounds and five .44-caliber Magnum rounds.
Some students at El Dorado High School felt shaken by the news but relieved that nothing happened.
After school Monday, about a half-dozen students sat on cars chatting across from the campus. They had heard that one of the students was friendly and didn't fit the stereotype of the angry loner plotting violence.
"It's really scary to think about," said Stephanie Zito, a senior. "I'm not as worried about it because people came forward."
Her friend, Kaitlyn Weber, also a senior, agreed that students' reporting threats of violence, rather than keeping quiet, is a good sign.
"You always hear about it on TV but don't think it would happen in Placerville," Weber said.
Although there are few physical altercations on campus, there is a lot of "trash talking," the students said, taunting about everything from hairstyles to clothing.
"Most people do it to get a laugh from their friends," Zito said.
Some students said that to stop violence on campus, teachers ought to talk about the importance of reporting suspicious behavior and treating others with respect. They suggested pairing upperclassmen with younger students as mentors.
"Everyone needs to be more accepting and less judgmental," Weber said.
The principal of the 1,300-student campus on the edge of Placerville said he was comforted by community reaction to the arrests.
"The lessons we have learned is that students need to actively participate in their safety," said Jerry Smith, citing the student who first alerted police.
"It at least made us aware of a concern. Time will tell how credible the possibility was," he said.
Smith declined to discuss the two students, but did say they were not known troublemakers.
Writings seized from the 15-year-old give an insight into a pained psyche.
"I deserve to die why god why why won't you let me die." And agonizing loneliness: "I look into my soul and don't see light. I've seen people died but if I die no one will cry because no one will miss me because I'm nothing."
Expelled student sues to be allowed back into school
District kicked out Liberty High teenager for bringing weapons near campus Teen says incident involvin bringing weapons near campus a mistake
By Jessica Logan, Bakersfield Califorian, July 25, 2005
A Liberty High School student who was kicked out of the Kern High School District in November after bringing a bunch of guns and knives near campus in his truck is suing the district to allow him back into school.
Jordan Rendel, 17, said he and a friend took the friend's antique gun collection and other weapons from around the house on Nov. 5, 2004. The friend's mother had been having problems with her husband -- he threatened to kill her, according to records filed in Kern County Superior Court. After Rendel parked near the school with the weapons, he was expelled.
"My son was trying to help a friend and that is all," the teen's mother, Cindi Rendel, said at a January hearing to appeal the expulsion, according to the court records. "He's a wonderful kid. And for him to be in this situation, it will mess up his entire life because he's a basketball player and this is messing up his future big time."
Jordan Rendel also said it was all a mistake.
"I was worried about (my friend)," Rendel said during the appeal hearing. "Trying to comfort him, you know. I wasn't even thinking about what was going on outside."
Alan Paradise, the director of pupil personnel at the Kern High School District, said Friday he could not comment on the status of students, but added that he had not yet been served with the suit, which was filed July 7.
Here's what the court records filed by Rendel's attorney say happened:
Rendel and his friend packed all the guns into the back of Rendel's father's Dodge pickup and put a bag of knives and a BB gun into the back seat of the cab on a Friday.
The friend stayed at Rendel's house after the weapons were taken away and the friend's mother went into hiding, according to witnesses who testified at an appeal to the expulsion.
Rendel went to work at McDonald's that Saturday and left the weapons in his vehicle.
That Monday he went to school and another student reported the weapons to authorities.
When asked, Rendel admitted he had weapons in the truck parked about 180 feet from campus.
Officers photographed the weapons, according to paperwork filed with the civil suit. They found a handgun, four rifles and a shotgun in the bed of the truck and three knives and a BB gun handgun in the cab of the truck, officers said.
The parents of the boy who owned the guns said at the unsuccessful appeal hearing that many of the guns were too old to shoot and some were not real guns.
Rendel had never been in trouble except for being late to school the previous year and was a well-rounded student -- he took college prep classes, played in the band and was a member of the school's basketball team, according to school records filed with the suit.
The school expelled Rendel from November 2004 to November 2005.
In an interview, Rendel's attorney, Donnalee Huffman, said her client is still being educated, but she didn't have details.
Huffman said she wanted to rush the case so Rendel could return for his senior year. The case is expected to return to court next month, she said.
At a January appeal, Huffman said Rendel should not have been expelled because he did not bring guns on school property.
He had parked off school grounds in front of his girlfriend's house. He would usually walk with her the rest of the way.
School officials at the hearing said students are under their jurisdiction during their trips to and from school. Huffman disagreed, saying the law is ambiguous.
Zero-Tolerance Policy Challenged
Parents say schools have gone overboard in trying to prevent violence on campus. One Ventura County family fights back.
By Fred Alvarez, Los Angeles Times, October 14, 2005
Even Daniel Bautista's parents agreed he should have been suspended for bringing a knife to school, although they believed their 13-year-old son when he said he had forgotten it was in his pants pocket.
But Jorge and Rose Bautista said the eighth-grader did not deserve to be removed from Sycamore Canyon School in Thousand Oaks.
Like many parents nationwide who are questioning zero-tolerance weapons laws aimed at preventing school violence, they took on their local school board, and requested to do so in a public hearing.
Their fight, aired Tuesday afternoon before dozens of parents and officials with the Conejo Valley Unified School District, offers an unusual glimpse at what normally is handled as a confidential matter.
"I felt that Daniel unintentionally took the knife to school; he didn't show it to anyone, he didn't threaten anyone," Rose Bautista told school board members. "I felt Daniel was a good kid who made a mistake."
They also have filed a discrimination complaint with the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights, saying Daniel's Latino heritage explains why his punishment did not match that of another Sycamore Canyon student, a white boy who was suspended last year for five days for having a small knife.
School officials deny any racial prejudice, noting that the other boy's knife did not qualify as a weapon under state law, and that most of the students expelled on similar charges were white. Bautista's knife was considered a weapon because it had a locking blade.
The school board ordered Daniel to attend another middle school until Thanksgiving break, after which he could return to Sycamore Canyon. His expulsion will be expunged from his record if he stays out of trouble.
"I think this is a very, very lenient punishment," board member Dorothy Beaubien told the packed hearing. "Truly, I think Daniel is a good kid, we all agree. But the fact is, he broke the law in a sense."
Zero-tolerance policies are increasingly coming under fire by parents and community leaders who say they leave no room for individual judgment.
The policies became prevalent after 1994, when the federal government mandated that all schools receiving federal funds expel any student bringing a firearm onto campus. Many states and school districts enacted tougher standards in the wake of school shootings, such as the 1999 Columbine High School massacre in Colorado.
The California Education Code mandates expulsion for students caught with knives or other dangerous objects, although it offers leeway in how principals can apply punishment.
Researchers at the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University and the Oakland-based Applied Research Center have concluded that the get-tough policies have swept up children who pose no threat to safety. Statistically, punishment also has fallen disproportionately on minorities, they concluded.
It's not just minority students and parents who are concerned. In the Rowland Unified School District in L.A. County, the parents of 17-year-old Danielle Brinkman continue to push for her reinstatement to Rowland High, where she was an honor student and choir member. A part-time Albertsons employee, she threw on her work pants the morning of June 1 and forgot a pocket knife was attached.
Her suspension ended a perfect attendance record. Made to attend a neighboring high school this semester, she can return to Rowland High for the last half of her senior year, although her parents will request earlier reinstatement.
"This kid has worked so hard, but now they've labeled her a danger and a threat," said Anita Brinkman, who belongs to a nationwide network of parents opposed to zero-tolerance policies. "People need to know how out of control zero tolerance is."
Rowland school district Supt. Maria G. Ott said confidentiality rules prevented her from discussing the case. She said the district does not apply a zero-tolerance policy, but weighs every case individually.
Richard Simpson, assistant superintendent of instruction for the Conejo Valley Unified School District, said Daniel Bautista's case demonstrates similar flexibility. The punishment handed down Tuesday was among the most lenient he has seen in two decades of conducting disciplinary hearings, he said.
If Daniel had turned in the knife as soon as he found it Sept. 13, he likely would have gotten off with a five-day suspension, Simpson told the board. Instead, the youngster admitted Tuesday to trying to hide it all day after discovering it in his pocket. The plan backfired when it slipped through his gym shorts and landed in front of a physical education teacher.
As for question of unequal treatment, Simpson said the other student last year had a knife that didn't meet the education code or penal code definition for a weapon. He also noted that most of the 23 students expelled in the last three years for possession of a knife were white.
After the board made its decision, Jorge and Rose Bautista huddled with Daniel, telling him to focus on the scores of people who wrote letters on his behalf and the neighbors and family friends who defended his character at Tuesday's hearing.
"This is what people think of you, they know you're a good kid," Rose Bautista told her son. "This was a mistake. Don't let it break your spirit."
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