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Thursday, January 24 , 2019, 12:46 am | Fair 44º


Making (the) Nooz

Supporters dressed in red and carrying signs with the likeness of San Marcos High School Principal Ed Behrens showed up Tuesday night at the Santa Barbara Unified School District trustees meeting to support the embattled principal. In spite of the protest, the board voted to demote Behrens from his position. Click to view larger
Supporters dressed in red and carrying signs with the likeness of San Marcos High School Principal Ed Behrens showed up Tuesday night at the Santa Barbara Unified School District trustees meeting to support the embattled principal. In spite of the protest, the board voted to demote Behrens from his position. (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

Making the Nooz, Week Ending March 17, 2018: School Board Demotes San Marcos High Principal

Noozhawk readers ask how to watch the May Mars launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base and how to find out when prescribed burns are planned

A coalition of San Marcos High School parents, students, staff and alumni rallied behind Principal Ed Behrens these past two weeks, after word spread that the district planned to demote him from his position at the end of the year.

Despite pleas from parents and Behrens himself to keep him on, the Santa Barbara Unified School District Board of Education voted Tuesday to remove him from the position of principal at the end of the school year.

Behrens was told he could either take a teaching position, at a significant pay cut, or resign.

The district and board members did not disclose why Behrens was removed, but the timing appears to be linked to recent social media threat investigations at the campus at 4750 Hollister Ave.

“Supporters of Mr. Behrens believe that he has been made the scapegoat for the embarrassment brought upon the school district when concerned parents raised important questions regarding the district’s lack of a well-defined threat management and communication plan to handle cyber threats,” SMHS Supporters of Ed, a parent group, wrote in a statement.

“Why is there no explanation for this significant and, in many peoples’ view, destructive decision?” reader Kirk Taylor wrote on Noozhawk’s Facebook page.

“This directly affects a lot of people, and sends a message to every single member of our community that they don’t care what people think, and that they can step in and significantly alter school cultures without reason. The school board and superintendent owe the community some kind of justification for their actions.”

In January, the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department investigated a group of male students who made chat room posts that listed female students, and derogatory and vulgar descriptions of them. They also looked into a threatening video created by a male student with what appeared to be an antique musket, but determined none of the involved students had access to functioning firearms.

SBUSD Superintendent Cary Matsuoka later held a public meeting to talk about the threat investigation and the district’s reaction, in which he apologized for the slow response.

“Something needs to change at SMHS, that is obvious,” reader Rhonda Sparks wrote on Noozhawk’s Facebook page.

“Maybe he didn’t deserve to get fired but his handling of the initial incident was horrible,” Jamie Pennington wrote of Behrens.

In the last two weeks, as word spread of Behrens’ likely demotion and Wednesday’s National School Walkout plans, San Marcos had two instances of threatening graffiti found on campus and a student was arrested for setting off a firework on campus Monday, an incident that authorities claim was meant to cause chaos.

“This is very sad and disappointing news,” Dina Clapinski wrote of Behrens’ demotion. “The principal immediately reported the incident to the police and his superiors. At that point, isn’t the superintendent’s responsibility to handle the situation accordingly? They are making him the fall guy for the ineffective way the situation was communicated to the community.”

In response to another post, Dan Seibert wrote, “Or maybe in this current climate of students being shot, the principal didn’t take the multiple threats seriously ...”

Students from San Marcos High were among the hundreds of local high schoolers who marched out of their classrooms Wednesday to protest gun violence in the National School Walkout, a month after a school shooting in Parkland, Fla., killed 17 people.

San Marcos junior Isabel Huerta, who helped organize the walkout, said in a statement to local media that the event was created “to protest Congress’ inaction to do more than tweet thoughts and prayers in response to the gun violence plaguing our schools and neighborhoods. The students at San Marcos High School have decided that this moment is too crucial and this issue too urgent to stand idly by.”

Noozhawk Asks

Col. Gregory Wood, vice commander of the 30th Space Wing at Vandenberg Air Force Base, said at the State of Vandenberg luncheon that thousands of visitors are expected for the NASA InSight launch to Mars, planned for May 5.

A reader asked whether Wood meant spectators could see the launch up close, or from public viewing areas, like other launches.

North County editor Janene Scully investigated and found out that the answer is both.

VAFB launches draw spectators in varying numbers depending on the customer, rocket or payload involved, and visitors typically have to have a special invitation to get onto the base.

Crowds swell for especially high-profile launches like the West Coast first interplanetary mission, Mars InSight lander.

NASA hosts a program to give an up-close look at launches, through special in-person events and online.

Participants who apply for a NASA Social event pay their own travel, hotel and food costs, but get to participate in special activities associated with the mission. This often includes a visit to the launch pad before blastoff, according to NASA.

In conjunction with InSight, NASA scientists and engineers will launch a tour to make presentations around California.

The road show will stop at the Santa Maria Valley Discovery Museum exhibit, 705 S. McClelland St., on May 2-3; Dick DeWees Community & Senior Center, at 1120 W. Ocean Ave. in Lompoc, on May 2; Allan Hancock College, 800 S. College Drive, on May 4; and the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, 2559 Puesta Del Sol, on May 19.

Others can see Vandenberg missions from sites around the Lompoc Valley, with best spots depending upon which rocket or missile is launching.

VAFB hosts monthly windshield tours of the base to let people know about the installation’s history and its missions. Click here for information on the public tours offered by the 30th Space Wing public affairs staff.

Noozhawk Asks

A Santa Barbara resident asked how to get free rocks and other materials from Montecito.

Santa Barbara County set up a Material Exchange Program, sort of a Craigslist for boulders, rocks, mulch, sand and other debris flows-related materials. Residents can advertise materials they want — or want to get rid of — on the website, sbcountymaterialexchange.com.

Noozhawk Asks

Between recent rains, there have been many prescribed burns on U.S. Forest Service land and other areas, and a local resident asked why agencies can’t provide wide notification ahead of time, to cut down on people calling 9-1-1 when they see smoke.

Some agencies do provide advanced notice of the burns (which Noozhawk does not refer to as “controlled burns” because sometimes they get out of control), including the U.S. Forest Service in news releases and on social media.

The Santa Barbara County Air Pollution Control District decides whether weather allows a prescribed burn, but there is no centralized place to check where and when the burns are happening.

Fire districts notify their duty officers and dispatches of the planned burns, county Fire Department public information officer Mike Eliason said.

There are plans to create a place for anyone to find out what burns are happening or planned, but it is months away, he said.

The APCD announced Friday that there will be burns next week, of one- to two-acre piles of cut and piled brush, along the 2500 block of Highway 154 and the Upper Trout Club, on whatever days the weather and air quality conditions allow it.

“The main objective of this burn is to provide firefighters improved opportunities for tactical operations and safety near structures, improvements and areas with high resource values,” APCD said in a statement.

“Adequate defensible space around communities will reduce the risk of structure loss, as well as improve the safety of residents and first responders. Additionally, prescribed burns can help prevent the spread of wildfires, and can reduce impacts to watersheds that can result in soil loss and sedimentation.

“The burn will be conducted when the meteorological conditions are highly favorable to direct smoke away from population centers.”

Noozhawk managing editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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