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School Board, Parents Dissatisfied with Response to Edison Shooting

By Susan Reines
Staff Writer

November 10 -- Parents and School Board members deemed a plan to bolster safety at Edison Elementary too narrow last week, promoting a wider community response to an October shooting near the school, while the police chief rejected the district's idea to start a community group to work on violence issues.

School board members accepted a safety auditors' proposal to raise fences and lock gates at Edison, but said the measures did not get to the root of the violence that has plagued the Pico Neighborhood, where the school is located, with 29 homicides in the last 15 years.

The auditors "do know why we called for the audit, right?" asked Board Member Oscar de la Torre, the only board member from the Pico Neighborhood. "A fence isn't going to protect children from that type of incident, and that's the type of incident that brought us to this analysis."

In October's shooting - which was apparently gang-related -- a car chased a bike-rider, yelled a Santa Monica gang name and fired 14 rounds across the street from the elementary school.

No one was seriously injured, but school officials and parents called for a comprehensive look at long-term solutions to Pico Neighborhood violence in the wake of the near miss.

Superintendent John Deasy, however, noted that the district can only fund safety measures on its own school sites unless it partners with the City to explore the larger issue of neighborhood violence.

"You cannot pay to audit a neighborhood," Deasy told the board. "If we want to engage in a more extensive study of safety, we're going to have to do that in partnership with the City of Santa Monica."

The auditors' recommendations do include a suggestion that the district work with the City on neighborhood safety programs, and the board members asked Deasy to continue talks with the city manager and police chief to attempt to set up joint programs to train residents and bolster safety measures in order to combat violence in the Pico Neighborhood.

"I know that we're responsible for our stuff," Board Member Mike Jordan said, "but there's a little bit of a disconnect with what I hear from parents is the prime matter. Their concern is a bullet... coming from off campus on to campus.

"We know we have a special problem here," said Jordan, the only Malibu resident on the board. "It's a different sort of neighborhood, in that we've had incidents already."

Deasy read a letter from Police Chief James T. Butts that rejected the district's proposal to set up a community group to work on violence issues.

"I feel it is dismissive of the police department's decades-long efforts," Butts wrote in the letter to Deasy.

The district creating a community group to work on violence issues would be analogous to the police department starting a program for high school drop-outs, Butts said. His letter included an extensive description of police programs and statistics about crime reduction in the Pico Neighborhood.

The board members expressed puzzlement at Butts' letter.

"The information is good," Jordan said. "We're aware of some of those programs, and they're excellent programs. But what is it that he feels is at odds with us going forward with a new dialogue?"

De la Torre said the district needed to find a way to bring the police department to the table.

"Without that it seemed we're going to be spinning our wheels all day trying to protect our children, when the violence is coming from outside in the community," he said. "We need to work with the police department."

Edison parents echoed the board members' dissatisfaction with the proposal for surface safety improvements on the school site.

Sheila Forsander, the lone Edison Language Academy parent who drove to Malibu for the meeting, said the district needed to think long term and educate people about violence, "not put a band aid on it."

Forsander read a letter from Health and Safety Chair Lisa Belfus, who was unable to attend the meeting.

"Why on earth is there no mention anywhere in the study of the presence of gun violence in the immediate perimeter of the school?" the letter asked. "Given that there is no mention of the problem of violence near the school, nor any recommendation for addressing it and reducing the resultant danger to students on campus, how does this study serve our needs?"

Forsander requested that the board hold another discussion about Edison safety at a meeting in Santa Monica, where it would be easier for Edison parents to attend.

The board unanimously voted to continue the item.

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