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Suspects Sought in Vandalism at 2 Valley Schools

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Authorities were searching Friday for vandals who caused more than $20,000 damage to two schools in two days.

First hit was the San Fernando Valley Academy in the 17600 block of Lassen Street, where vandals broke into the seventh- and eighth-grade classroom late Tuesday or early Wednesday and smashed eight desktop computers, school officials said. The vandals also overturned tables and chairs and sprayed fire extinguishers throughout the room, covering books and desks with a coat of chemical snow.

A glass basketball backboard in the school gymnasium was shattered by “some sort of projectile,” said athletic director Doug Zimmerman. A small amount of money was stolen from the school cafeteria.

Early Thursday morning, a mile away, vandals ransacked Andasol Elementary, a public school in the 10100 block of Encino Avenue, police said. The vandals smashed televisions, videocassette recorders and Apple computers in three classrooms, including the homeroom for a special-education class. A smashed clock showed the time of the break-in, its hands stopped at 1:22, school officials said.

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“We’re just sick over this--just sick,” said Andasol’s Principal Jacqueline Howard. “In the fall the students sold See’s Candy and raised $5,000 for these four computers. The computers they’ve earned we’ve lost. If you steal something, that’s one thing--but they were just destroyed so no one could use them.”

Special-education students, first- and third-graders had to share space with other classes Thursday and Friday. Andasol students also had to eat lunch in the auditorium while Los Angeles Unified School District crews repaired the cafeteria.

Some San Fernando Valley Academy classes convened in the school library while crews repaired the vandalized classroom.

Los Angeles and school district police were working together on the two incidents, which they said were probably connected.

“Both of these instances had the same kind of viciousness and anger in just destroying property rather than actually gaining something by stealing things,” said Los Angeles Unified School District police officer Michael Bowman. “This is more of a junior-high-school-aged anger being taken out on both schools.”

Bowman said the vandals were probably the same ones who attempted to burglarize Andasol last Saturday evening but were run off by a nearby resident. He said he is trying to contact that neighbor.

The vandals were probably students or former students of the schools and there was “definitely more than one,” he added. “Kids have a kind of pack mentality.”

Arsenio Hernandez, principal of San Fernando Valley Academy, said he had no idea who might have vandalized his school or why, but was confident the damaged classrooms would be refurbished. The academy, which is run by the Seventh-day Adventists, is insured, he said.

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But Andasol officials said insurance will not replace much of the equipment damaged at their school, posing a particular problem for special-education students.

“They rely a lot on their computers and we use music a lot for building language skills--some of the children have difficulty speaking but they can sing,” said Laura Paigen, a special-education teacher. The vandals ruined the class record player.

“The kids are reacting almost like they did right after the [1994 Northridge] earthquake,” she said. “I have children who were starting to come out of their shell and now they’ve withdrawn again.”

Beverly Simkin said her 11-year-old daughter, who is vision- and hearing-impaired and has Down syndrome, relied on a computer monitor’s enlarged text to read and a headset to hear.

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“I was devastated when I heard,” said Simkin, 39, a nurse at a local hospital. “I felt badly for the classroom and the teacher, but to be honest it took me a year to get that kind of equipment from the school district. The computer was so vital for her writing and reading, to see it gone was so sad--I was just in tears the whole day.”

Simkin said the vandalism was incomprehensible to her daughter, Leah.

“She kept asking us: ‘Why did they break it? Why?’ ” Simkin said.

By Friday afternoon, however, Simkin had started lining up donations from local businesses such as Circuit City, which offered the school a new VCR, and Prudential Insurance, which, she said, may donate Apple computers. Simkin also said the mayor’s office may give the school a television set.

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Assistant school police Chief Richard Page said at least 16 public schools in Chatsworth and Northridge were vandalized in the first six months of 1997, causing $44,000 in damage. Districtwide, he said, vandals caused $1.8 million in damage in the first six months of 1996, the most recent period for which district statistics were available.


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