Extra security and police patrols will continue on and around Sylmar High School campus this week to make sure there isn’t a repeat of fighting.
The 20-minute brawl on Monday, May 9 — captured on cell phone video — took a dozen officers to control. To discourage the fighting, teachers were told to use class time talk to about the racial conflict at the school.
On Tuesday, May 10, several parents came to the campus and had an impromptu meeting with Sylmar administrators. Another, more formal, meeting for all interested parents was scheduled for Wednesday, May 11.
Rita Ortega, a parent, commented on the San Fernando Sun Facebook page that “this is so sad how kids are nowadays! Parents really need to discipline there (sic) kids more teach them how life is. Not putting anyone down but me as a parent we have to do our jobs with our children so they can be safe. No matter what color of skin we got we are all children of god!”
Sylmar Principal James Lee sent out a recorded phone call to parents on Tuesday saying “the environment throughout the school day was very calm and your children are safe” and that administrators, school police, LAPD and counselors would share the plans for the school “as we move forward.”
On Wednesday morning, things seemed to have calmed down substantially. There were no police cars visible in front or around as students and administrators entered the campus. The student population totaled 2,065 — including 1,946 Latinos and 44 African Americans — in 2014-15, the most recent records available from the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD).
Monday’s confrontation seems to be a spillover from tensions between African American and Latino students after a fight at a prom afterparty.
On Saturday, May 7, Sylmar High School seniors enjoyed their prom, which went off without a hitch — in fact people remarked how well behaved and polite the students were. But there was an an afterparty at a short distance from the high school, and things turned ugly there.
“One African American guy got jumped from some Mexicans” who mistook him for another person and “they broke a beer bottle over his head,” recounted a student, who asked not to be identified.
The person assaulted at that party was a member of the high school football team and “once you mess with one of them, you mess with all,” said the same student.
Some football players apparently took vengeance for that incident on Monday when, in the middle of lunch, they went after Latinos.
Videos on social media show groups of African American students going after Latinos. In one instance, they punch and kick one guy as he falls on the ground, where they continued to pounce on him. A teacher or administrator is seen trying to separate them.
Several more fights are captured on the videos, that show school police officers also intervening, as students shout to egg on the fracas or in consternation. One girl is heard yelling “leave him alone,” as a fight breaks out.
Following the incident, LAUSD Superintendent Michelle King released a statement that “As the head of the most diverse school district in the nation, let me be very clear: We will not tolerate targeting or violence of any kind on our campuses.
“Regarding the recent conflict at Sylmar High School, law enforcement is continuing to investigate. All parents and guardians have been notified about the incident, and appropriate disciplinary action is being taken.
“We want to reassure parents that the safety of all students and staff remains our top priority. Today, additional school police have been deployed to the school, along with extra administrative and support staff. Because this is an especially difficult time, additional counselors are also at Sylmar High School to provide emotional support for students and staff.
“On a personal note, I want to express my concern about any student who was injured. I wish them a speedy recovery.
“The bottom line is that all students are welcome at L.A. Unified schools,” the statement said.
Students Speak Out
There have been many versions of what happened as the investigation into the fight continues.
One thing is certain.
“There were multiple fights,” said several students who witnessed the confrontation.
Some students eventually spoke on condition of anonymity because they said people were threatening them not to speak with the media, which promptly show up to document the fight.
Chloe, a 10th grader, said there was a small fight initially that “teachers broke it out” and then there was another one.
“There were like three fights at one time,” she said. Groups of at least 10 students participated in each one.
“It looked like a mosh pit,” said Ashley, another student.
Both said they saw a student with a bloody nose and a black eye. Even a teacher apparently was hit.
Juan, an 11th grader who was near the fight, said “all of a sudden I saw a lot of kids running into the quad” as the commotion escalated.
Administrators cut the lunch five minutes earlier. “They wanted everybody back into their classrooms,” the student said.
Witnesses said African American students were sent home after lunch, in part for their safety and to try to prevent more problems as the school let out.
By the time the bell rang on Monday, a heavier than usual police presence was noticeable around Sylmar High. School officials and a police officer were posted at the entrance to the campus. School police and LAPD units patrolled around the school. Students who stayed in groups were approached by officers and told to go home.
The LAPD sent an additional patrol car to Sylmar High following the fracas.
“The fighting appeared to be racially motivated between Black and Hispanic students,” said LAPD Sgt. Gregory Bruce, Mission Division watch commander.
There were also rumors that black students had received tweets or texts warning them to stay away from school on Tuesday.
Some parents decided to keep their children at home on Tuesday, rather than send them to school. LAUSD reported that attendance at Sylmar High School on Tuesday was 93.51 percent and 94.44 percent for the magnet school Sylmar Biotech and Health Academy. Both figures were slightly lower than the daily average.
For Juan, this was an unusual situation at the school, that has previously had problems with racial tension on campus previously.
“There haven’t been any fights this year. This is the first disaster that happened,” he said.
“Normally, on the daily basis you feel fine. I guess it happened because of the after party thing,” the student said.
There are more administrators and mental health counselors working on the campus this week in an effort to provide more supervision, and to talk with students about what happened. The amount of LAPD and school police presence will be determined on a day-to-day basis.