Opinion: Kennedy Middle School 'Chaperones' Either Need Instructional Guidance, or Some Common Sense

An opinion piece by Spectrum Magazine publisher Steve Penna on the recent arrest of five students, accused of attempting to rape two 12-year-old female students during the course of a field trip.

I, like most of you, was shocked when I heard about the five students who have been accused of trying to rape two 12-year-old girls on a school field trip to Stulsaft Park in March. The girls did not report the incident until the last week of school, when they told their school counselor they had been sexually assaulted on the outing. The counselor immediately informed the school principal, Warren Sedar who, in turn, informed police, which led to the boys being taken into custody during one of the last days of the school year.

The boys, ages 13 and 14, appeared in juvenile court last month at the Youth Services Center in Belmont, and are being charged with felony counts of intent to commit rape, sexual battery, and committing a lewd act on a minor under the age of 14 by force. They were arraigned and set for trial this month. According to District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe, the boys cannot be charged as adults, and are being charged as juveniles. This means, if convicted, they cannot be held past their 25th birthdays. It has not yet been disclosed whether any of the students are undocumented residents.

School district authorities said the alleged attack occurred on March 4, when 20 Kennedy Middle School students went to the park, accompanied by a teacher and an aide. The 10-to-1 ratio is in accordance with policy. Reports indicate that there were also two adult chaperones on the outing.

The juveniles all belonged to an optional newcomers class for students who’ve been in the country less than one year. The district didn’t disclose whether the students involved in the crime were separated from the others as part of the program, or left the larger group on their own. But, what is known is that the students were out of the supervision of any adult or school official for an extended amount of time.

The district is conducting an internal investigation of the incident and the safety procedures in place, stated school district Superintendent Jan Christensen. She also stated that she was “very distressed by the report."

“Nothing matters more to us than the safety of our students, and we are thankful the police acted quickly after the students reported this incident to their counselor. Our first priority is to assure that students are always safe at school and on field trips,” Christensen said in a prepared statement.

Yes, indeed, police have acted fast and often, in regard to the middle school. In fact, during the last school year, police received an average of 1.5 calls per school day from Kennedy administrators and also from concerned neighbors, according to police reports obtained by Patch and myself.

Throughout the school year, there was one report of sexual battery on Sept. 9, in addition to the attempted rape incident. Other charges included: three reports of assault or battery, seven reports of possession or possible possession of marijuana by a minor, six arrests, four reports of attempted robbery and one of attempted theft, three reports of vandalism, one report of obstructing or resisting a peace officer, one online impersonation with intent to harm, and four reports of mentally disturbed individuals.

Sounds safe to me?

So, the incident at Stulsaft is obviously a continuation of unlawful activities that occur on the westside campus daily. Kennedy Principal Sedar has since been reassigned to another school but, according to district officials, the move was planned before the incident came to light.

One’s first instinct would naturally be to blame the school district and the faculty and adults involved—which I do to a certain extent.

Should parents expect their children to be supervised the entire time they are on a field trip? I say, Yes--most certainly, in one form or another. Where were these adults? To let a group of seven students go off on their own at Stulsaft Park, where there are unknown adults, gang activity, graffiti, homeless residents and other people not connected with the school or district roaming the park—and to let them do so for a long period of time—is, in my opinion, unreasonable, and, to be quite honest, irresponsible.

Had they not been allowed to go off on their own, this incident would not have happened and these seven children’s lives would not have been changed negatively, forever. I don’t know if it is the right time for the blame game, but it is time for district officials to recognize that current policies need to change.

It is unacceptable for this type of activity to be related to any school, district or activity in our community. Students are sent to school with the basic expectation of being safe and supervised. Is that now too much to ask?

Although all media outlets picked up and reported on the incident, there has been minimal outcry from our community or parents in the district. I would go out on a limb and say that it is most likely because the students involved were in this country less than a year and therefore perceived as being Latino. I can assure you, had this incident been reported by students of upper-class Caucasian families, our district officials would be preparing their resignation letters. Where are our Latino community leaders?

In the meantime, district officials are awaiting an incident report before discussing possible action. Much will depend on the details of reports, including whether the staff members responsible for the safety of the students should be disciplined or dismissed. They are also promising their own investigation and a review of safety policies and procedures when it comes to off-campus school trips.

Until then, five young boys are awaiting trial and will most likely be severely punished for the rest of their lives. Two girls have to deal with being traumatized and abused, while their parents are undoubtedly talking to attorneys about lawsuits.

All this, when all of them should have been in an environment where they were protected. Very sad indeed. Let’s hope things do change.

Corrin Rankin July 11, 2011 at 08:02 PM
I’m sure this is not a racial issue. The fact that there 263 calls to the police during the last school year is outrageous. There is NO way to justify this number. The issue is that there were 263 documented calls. There is something really wrong when the police are being called up to a middle school more than once a day for an entire school year. You can’t skate around this issue. 263 calls a year. 263 calls a year. This is an alarming number. I think 25 calls a year is too many. The neighbors should never feel as if they need to call the police regarding the “middle school” in their neighborhood. There shouldn’t be this many calls period. Kennedy needs to make changes period. At this point parents and the district NEED to get involved. @Sharon Levin you are a great basketball coach. There is no doubt as to your personal commitment, but 263 calls in my opinion is unacceptable and there is no “positive spin” you or anyone else can place on this issue. As a parent of two former Kennedy students and one current student I know all too well and much more than what is in this article.
Sharon Levin July 12, 2011 at 10:06 PM
Hi Corrin! Thanks for the nice comment about my coaching. I miss my girls, please tell your daughter hi for me. If she plays next year, tell her I'll come to her games, she brings a lot to the court. Corrin, I do know that's a lot of calls, but it's still just a statistic. I have a friend who lives in a lovely, safe neighborhood. However, you might see a lot of calls to the police because she has very loud neighbors who party a lot (and late). If I were to see only the number of calls, I might think that she lived in an unsafe place. I'd like to know more about these calls. Is it neighbors who object to kids hanging out near their homes? How many are coming from the school itself? Just having a number without more details is not enough for me. Again, I felt like my girls were safe at Kennedy and that (for the most part) they got a great education.
Georgia Jack July 13, 2011 at 01:57 AM
My opinion on this thread can be found here: http://redwoodcity.patch.com/blog_posts/inflaming-the-crowd
Zeke Mead July 20, 2011 at 03:48 AM
The high number of calls is not a sign of a change in the students as it is a change in society post Columbine, etc. Districts call in any and all issues now so they can't be accused of ignoring something that turns into a kid coming to school and going goofy.
Elaine Park July 20, 2011 at 05:28 PM
In response to Philippe's comment -- I would imagine most of that 39% of English Learners is composed of children who are new to Redwood City, not children who have been in the District for 7 years. I'd love Steve to do some more research into police calls received from other middle schools in the area. Is Kennedy an anomoly, or is this normal for a middle school in these times? Zeke makes an excellent point. I know of at least one instance where police were called to a school due to a problem with a child with behavior issues. It was done to follow procedure, not because the police were required on the scene. It would be good to know more about the follow up on these calls from Kennedy -- how many translated into a criminal act, how many were irritated neighbors, how many were false alarms, etc?


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