‘The time for words is done’: San Jose school shaken by violence
James Lick High School teacher Michael Gatenby said more transparency and safety reforms are urgently needed. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

    After numerous trespassers assaulted students and staff at an East San Jose high school, outraged teachers and parents are demanding immediate security changes.

    Two separate, life-threatening incidents have rocked James Lick High School in the East Side Union High School District. In response, the school community is insisting the district implement heightened security, bring police back to campus and install perimeter fencing.

    Teacher Michael Gatenby said eight people came on campus Aug. 7 and assaulted two staff members and a student after two students had a verbal dispute and one called for outside help. The trespassers arrived in two cars and attacked the targeted student, he said. The attackers fled after a school worker stopped the fight, but when another teacher tried to photograph one of the car’s license plates, the driver jumped out and assaulted her—sending her to the hospital with a severe concussion.

    “We were unable to prevent eight people from coming on our campus with violent intentions,” Gatenby told San José Spotlight. “One of our teachers was sent to the hospital with pretty significant injuries and our campus monitor and the student who got assaulted both needed medical attention.”

    Ten days later on Aug. 17, seven trespassers attacked two students on the P.E. blacktop with knives, Gatenby said. Two students were stabbed and might have died had it not been for the P.E. teacher’s actions, he added.

    “Those kids are lucky to be alive,” he said. “If the teachers didn’t put themselves in harm’s way, they very well might not be.”

    Gatenby said teachers are demanding the district implement safety reforms, including additional security and an annual update to the school’s safety plan. He said more transparency is needed. Until he posted a video on social media, parents didn’t know about the first assault at James Lick, he said. To give the community voice and hold the district accountable, he started The Coalition for Reform of East Side SJ High Schools on Facebook.

    “The time for words is done,” he told school board trustees at the Sept. 7 meeting. “It’s time to act.”

    This isn’t the first time parents have voiced frustration over the lack of communication and action after a frightening incident. The San Jose Unified School District had a string of threatening events that rattled the community and spurred parents and teachers to form a safety group, after the district’s lackluster response.

    James Lick High School was the scene of two violent attacks by trespassers that caused life-threatening injuries. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

    At the East Side Union High School board meeting, P.E. teacher Courtney Garcia said she and another teacher used their bare hands to apply pressure to stab wounds a student sustained on his back, abdomen and arm to save his life. Garcia said the district never asked her about the attack.

    “Instead, we are sent generic emails about how safety continues to be paramount,” she told trustees at the board meeting. “You refuse to provide us with a safer learning environment. I have no reason to believe something worse won’t happen tomorrow. Similar pleas last year were ignored. As a professional, I don’t feel safe, considered, heard or taken seriously.”

    The gates are closed

    District spokesperson Sergio Diaz-Luna said the incident remains an ongoing police investigation and the gates at James Lick are closed and locked during the school day. Staff are monitoring access points and the district has provided additional staffing. He said site and district leadership are reassessing school climate and perimeter safety.

    Board President Lorena Chavez said at the meeting she wants the district to immediately address all aspects of campus security. She wants to ensure there is a collaborative dialogue between the administration, parents and teachers and that it leads to a comprehensive approach for school safety. She asked the administration to provide the board with a safety plan at a future meeting.

    “Each of you deserves and has the right to learn and work in a safe environment,” she said. “I’m looking to the administration to immediately develop a process for convening the stakeholders … with the most immediate emphasis on the James Lick community.”

    Gatenby said he knows some community members have a complicated history with police, but safety has to be the district’s priority.

    James Lick High School teachers and parents spoke about the violent attacks on their school at a recent East Side Union High School District board meeting. Photo courtesy of Mark Adams.

    But not everyone agrees. At the board meeting, parent Alberto Camacho said he’s against having police on campus—and that officers are prone to stereotyping.

    “As a school culture … we can’t look at these kids as criminals,” he said. “Support the students who are often overly criminalized and the community that we’re serving.”

     A dangerous situation

    The school’s safety team consists of teachers, administrators and a campus monitor trained to observe and report, but the monitor has no formal training, Gatenby said.

    “All we have are whistles and walkie talkies,” he said, “to try and defend against knives and God forbid, guns.”

    Mark Adams, James Lick High School teacher and site president of East Side Teachers Association, said teachers feel helpless and frustrated.

    “Our campuses are not as safe as they should be,” he said. “We don’t know how to defend our students. We’re just not equipped.”

    Last year, the teacher’s association voted to recommend the district reconsider law enforcement on campus, he said.

    “We need to act with more urgency,” he told San José Spotlight. “Parents … just want their kids to be safe. In the past, I’ve had a lot of students tell me the campus was the safest place in their lives. I feel sorrow in my heart because I think we’ve lost that place for them.”

    Parent Gina Gutierrez said teachers have become default security guards, putting their lives in jeopardy to protect students. She said police are needed on campus before someone gets killed.

    “My hope for the future,” she told San José Spotlight, “is we fix this now for those students who are in our elementary schools, so they don’t have to go through what our students are going through now.”

    Contact Lorraine Gabbert at [email protected].

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