School Officials Try to Calm Fears : Stabbing: Students on the Canyon Country campus complain that concerned parents--mostly Anglo--have unfairly pinned blame for violent incidents on Latinos.
On the first day of school after a teen-ager was stabbed on campus last week, Canyon High School administrators sought Monday to reassure students and parents fearful of a recurrence and critical of an administration that they feel has done little to address the problem of violence on campus.
“None of you should . . . come to this school and fear for anything,” Principal Bill White told the Canyon Country school’s 2,250 students, who assembled during the midmorning break to hear him speak. “We’re going to do everything in our power to make sure we have a safe, orderly school forever--not just this week.”
School officials and students also asserted that the school is not riddled with racial animosity, despite accusations from angry parents that tension between Latino and Anglo students resulted in Friday’s attack on Pat Butterfield, an Anglo youth, allegedly by a Latino teen-ager.
“I don’t think it’s racial,” said 16-year-old Norma Gonzalez, a junior at the school. “But the kids are getting that feeling because the parents are blowing this out of proportion. . . . The Mexicans feel like it’s their fault.”
White said the school has been trying to bridge cultural differences and boasts a faculty and student group that meets regularly to discuss race-related issues. “Our school is open to anyone, and we love all of them,” he said.
Friday’s incident, which left Butterfield seriously wounded with a punctured diaphragm, was the third violent episode involving Canyon students since February, and heightened the fears of a community increasingly confronted with problems that have long plagued urban neighborhoods.
Scores of parents gathered over the weekend to plan a possible demonstration next week at the school and to express frustration with administrators whom they accuse of evading issues of violence and ethnic tension--emotional issues fueled by the attack on Butterfield.
The other two incidents also involved Anglo students who were injured, allegedly by Latino youths.
But while several teen-agers Monday agreed that Canyon has its share of racial mistrust, some students complained that the concerned parents--who are mostly Anglo--have unfairly pinned blame for the school’s problems on Latinos, who make up 19% of the student body.
Gonzalez, who belongs to a student group that works with teachers to promote multicultural understanding on campus, said racial harassment on campus cuts both ways, with Anglo students taunting Latinos as well as the other way around. She said she herself has heard Anglo students in the hallways commenting that Latinos “should go back to their country.”
“If it was a white person that stabbed another white person, it wouldn’t be this big thing,” added her friend, Roxanne Cruz, also 16. “I know people from gangs, and they don’t jump people just because they’re white.”
The knifing Friday apparently sprang from a lunchtime confrontation off campus between Butterfield and the youth who was later arrested in connection with the stabbing. Butterfield, interviewed at the hospital over the weekend, said the two exchanged words at a nearby fast-food restaurant, ending with a threat by the other teen-ager.
But school officials said they are checking into reports that Butterfield first hit the other youth in the face, possibly in retaliation for an incident last month in which one of Butterfield’s friends, Casey Carmack, was jabbed by a pencil, allegedly by the same boy.
The arrested youth, who is being held at Sylmar Juvenile Hall until his hearing Wednesday, could not be reached for comment. He has been suspended from school and will be expelled from the district if authorities confirm that he wielded a knife in Friday’s attack, Canyon Dean of Students Bob Weber said.
To help prevent another outbreak of violence, Canyon students will not be allowed off campus during lunch, a policy beginning today that will remain in effect at least until the end of the week. The school’s supervisorial staff has been increased to nine adults, up from the seven routinely on campus, White said.
School officials are also trying to determine whether the youth belongs to a gang and whether Butterfield is part of a group of mostly Anglo students who call themselves the Smoking Tribe Brothers, which many students describe as a social club.
Monday morning, in an informal session with two dozen, often belligerent parents, White said the recent incidents of violence did not indicate a campus infested with gangs or marred by racial hostility.
“We haven’t seen those kinds of things escalate. It’s been more one-on-one than group-on-group,” he said of the recent attacks, adding that a questionnaire will be distributed campuswide later this week to poll students on whether they see gang activity as a pressing problem at Canyon, despite the view of sheriff’s deputies that it is not.
But parent Tyna Baran said her freshman son, who is Anglo, would be too intimidated by alleged Latino gang members on campus to respond to the planned survey.
“My ninth-grader will never answer your questionnaire,” she said. “He’s five-foot, blond-haired and blue-eyed. . . . He’s too afraid.”
Dwight and Linda Van Auker, parents of Casey Carmack, the boy attacked last month, also accused the administration of being beholden to developer interests and hushing up incidents of violence to help preserve the image of Santa Clarita as a serene, Anglo, upper-middle-class community.
White later dismissed the allegation. “That is so much garbage that it doesn’t dignify a response. . . . I’ve never talked to a developer in all my years here,” said White, who has been principal since 1984.
Meanwhile, Santa Clarita City Manager George Caravalho is scheduled to meet with Sheriff’s Capt. Robert Spierer this week in the wake of Friday’s attack.
Coincidentally, the City Council last week voted to allot $80,000 for anti-gang programs at schools.
Times staff writers Tracey Kaplan and Lorna Fernandes contributed to this story.