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Tensions flare at Burbank High School

HILLSIDE DISTRICT -- Tension between Burbank High School students has

prompted administrators to begin videotaping and breaking up groups of

more than four students meeting “in a disruptive manner,” the school’s

principal said.

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On Dec. 8, up to 75 students from different ethnic groups were

involved in altercations that caused the school to step up security and

request police enforcement on the campus, said principal John Hutak.

While school officials were silent on the makeup of the two groups,

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students said the tensions were largely between white and Armenian

students.

On Monday, Hutak sent a letter home to parents explaining what had

occurred the week before and what steps the school had taken to stop the

problems.

In his letter, Hutak said two incidents took place during lunch that

precipitated the problems.

The first incident was “a verbal altercation with some pushing and

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shoving between two small groups of students,” Hutak said.

“The other incident was several groups of 15 to 20 students moving

about the campus in a disruptive manner,” he wrote. “Neither incident

resulted in any kind of formal disciplinary measures other than verbal

warnings.”

School administrators held a campuswide meeting Thursday morning to

try and resolve ethnic tensions, Hutak said, but the meeting failed to

end the problems.

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On Thursday, two students were suspended for five days each after they

refused to disperse from a group of 10 to 15 students gathered during

lunch. The other students obeyed the request, Hutak said.

The problems led administrators to go over a School Wide Action Plan.

As part of that plan, large groups of students are prohibited from

gathering outside of class and school officials have been instructed to

videotape those who disobey the rule, he said.

Hutak said additional Burbank Police officers were sent to the school

to patrol the campus as a short-term solution to the problem. Campus

security also conducted random checks of backpacks, lockers and used a

metal detector wand to search for weapons. None were found, he said.

The disturbances led the school to hold a meeting with a small group

of parents Friday. Some parents expressed concerns for their children’s

safety.

Leslie Strunk, who has two daughters attending Burbank High, said she

felt better after the meeting but acknowledged that some parents remain

worried.

“My impression is that things were handled in a really good manner,”

Strunk said. “No one was hurt, no weapons were found and if there was

violence, I would want the kids perpetrating the violence to be gone. I

would expect them to be suspended, if not, expelled.”

Nathan Kavanaugh, 16, a junior, said the incidents were unsettling.

“Last week, I was starting to wonder if I feel safe enough,” he said.

“But, I purposely stay away from those groups and from getting involved.”

Kavanaugh said most of the problems were between Armenian students and

other white students. Past tensions between Hispanic and Armenian

students didn’t seem to be a factor, he said.

“The Armenian students are getting [most] of the blame, I don’t think

it’s fair” he said. “I’ve talked to some of the Armenian kids and they

say it’s over and they’re getting along with Hispanic students -- now

they’re not getting along with white students.”

Hutak declined to point the finger at a particular ethnic group. He

said the groups involved included a mix of students.

“The groups aren’t pure in one sense,” he said. “It’s not a particular

nationality or race.”

Student representatives from the school’s largest ethnic groups --

Armenians, other white students, Hispanics and Asians -- have met to

discuss the issues and will continue to meet the first Monday of each

month, Hutak said.

“They will meet every month -- even if the campus climate is good,” he

said.


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