Burbank Unified board member Steve Ferguson excoriated some local parents he said were “empowering terrorism,” while district staff called for calm during a board meeting on Thursday at the end of an emotional week for many in the city.
Within seven days, district students, staff, teachers and parents went through two instances of threats and unsubstantiated rumors at Burroughs High School following a school shooting in the not-too-distant community of Santa Clarita.
“It has been an extremely difficult time for all us,” Burbank Unified Supt. Matt Hill said. “We hear in the media so often. We’ve had the conversations, seems like almost every other month now, at the school board about a shooting at school.”
On Nov. 14, a lone student shot and murdered two classmates and wounded three others at Saugus High School in Santa Clarita in a school shooting less than 30 miles from Burbank. At the end of the shooting, he took his own life.
Countless Burbank Unified teachers, students and staff have ties to the area, including Muir Middle School principal Greg Miller, a Saugus graduate who lives two blocks from campus, and board president Roberta Reynolds, whose grandson is supposed to enroll shortly in a preschool located behind the Saugus campus.
On the Monday following the shooting, Burroughs High received a false threat of violence on a phony district Instagram account.
A day later, district parents propagated photos and rumors of additional violence through social media that led to several students being kept home by their parents on Wednesday.
On Thursday evening, Ferguson called out many of those parents for running to social media rather than reporting issues to proper authorities, which, according to him, aided terrorism.
“You’re not helping and you’re empowering — and I’m going to say this, it’s going to be controversial, watch it, underline it — you’re empowering terrorism,” he said. “You empower terrorists by empowering fear and creating additional uncertainty, and that’s not who we raise and that’s not who we are.”
Some parents and students made light of the threats throughout the week on social media, which also drew Ferguson’s scorn.
“It’s unacceptable to joke about this, unacceptable,” he said. “It’s unacceptable for parents to blow this up out of proportion online. That’s equally unacceptable.”
Board clerk Steve Frintner said, “We need to stay calm in the face of fear, and that’s not an easy thing to do.”
Hill added parents may also be unknowingly helping those who want to spread panic.
“Some people get a kick out of chaos and fear and so they perpetuate that because they think it’s funny or they’re disturbed individuals,” he said. “But it’s the society we live in now. This is our reality.”
Hill, Ferguson and other board members encouraged faculty, staff and parents to continue to report anything out of the ordinary to district personnel or police.
“When we see something, we say something, but we give it to the police so they can investigate, because what happens is, they have detectives, they have resources and they can figure out if it’s credible or not,” Hill said.
Since the Saugus shooting, Hill acknowledged his office has been contacted by many parents giving advice as to how to improve on-campus safety.
Hill said that, while he appreciated the feedback, the best way to pitch ideas was through school safety committees, which meet regularly to discuss options and policies.
“Attendance at our safety committees at our schools is really small,” Hill said. “We need more people engaged.”
Hill also noted the district is planning a safety forum with Burbank police and potentially with officials from Los Angeles County. No firm date has been set.