Tuesday, August 14 , 2018, 7:08 pm | Fair 75º


Santa Barbara Schools Superintendent Speaks Out About Chat Room, Video Incidents

Some 200 people turn out at San Marcos High School seeking answers from district officials

Cary Matsuoka, superintendent of the Santa Barbara Unified School District, speaks Monday night at San Marcos High School, addressing concerns about threatening and disturbing chat room posts and a video. Click to view larger
Cary Matsuoka, superintendent of the Santa Barbara Unified School District, speaks Monday night at San Marcos High School, addressing concerns about threatening and disturbing chat room posts and a video. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

Santa Barbara Unified School District Superintendent Cary Matsuoka on Monday night told a crowd of about 200 people, many of them angry parents, that the district made errors in how it handled communication involving threatening and disturbing chat room posts and a video directed at San Marcos High School students.

“We were too slow,” Matsuoka said. “My apologies to you. We underestimated the emotional impact to you and your children.”

Matsuoka, along with Santa Barbara County sheriff’s Cmdr. Darren Fotheringham and Deputy Perry Kuhl, spoke to the crowd at the San Marcos High School auditorium to offer an update on the status of the incident and investigation.

Despite the admission, Mastsuoka said, privacy laws involving minors prohibited him from saying anything specific about the case or any potential forms of discipline.

The Sheriff’s Department is investigating posts and a video discovered on a private, invite-only internet chat room. The posts were brought to the attention of San Marcos High School staff on Jan. 19, 2018, following a minimum day of school.

School administrators immediately reported the case to the Sheriff’s Department, which then began an investigation.

The investigation revealed a group of male San Marcos students listed a group of high school female students and posted derogatory and vulgar descriptions about them. There was also a video created by a male student with what appeared to be an antique musket.

The video referred to a female as a “thot,” a slang term that refers to women as “cheap goods.” The person in the video says “pick up your rifle, aim and fire at the thot,” according to a portion of the video played by KEYT 3.

The Sheriff’s Department has interviewed about 50 people and executed search warrants as part of its investigation. Authorities said that “while the video is disturbing in nature, it did not specifically target any particular student or the high school.”

The school notified the families of the female students included in the posts, and authorities determined that there was not an immediate threat to the students or the school.

“We do not believe that they have any weapons or firearms of destruction available to them at this time,” Fotheringham said.

The Sheriff’s Department worked closely with school administrators to identify the group of students responsible for creating the posts and the student who made the video.

On Monday, Jan. 22, the first school day after the posts were discovered, the students responsible were contacted upon arrival to school and action was taken by the Santa Barbara Unified School District.

The wider school community, however, wasn’t notified until Tuesday, Matsuoka said.

“My cabinet team did not have a sense of this until Tuesday, late night,” Matsuoka said. “There was a gap in communication between the campus and my cabinet team.”

Many of the parents in the audience said Matsuoka needs to do more to build trust and speak honestly with the community. They wanted to know what type of social media training the district was offering the students, and where there was any instruction about violence against women, misogyny and gender-based violence.

“We have a long way to go when it comes to educating our students about gender issues,” Matsuoka said. He added that “the social media space is really hard.”

One of the people in the audience said that Matsuoka was acting defensive, rather than showing leadership to resolve the cyber bullying and communication problems at the school.

Matsuoka at one point said, “I have been here 19 months.”

He urged the crowd to be patient and said that not all answers can be quick.

“You are asking me for a deep change in culture that is going to take time,” Matsuoka said.

During the question-and-answer portion of the meeting, a parent presented the district with a petition featuring 1,000 signatures, calling on the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors to fund a school resource officer.

Another parent wanted to know if the district had a zero-tolerance policy for these types of acts, and whether the FBI had been called in to investigate the incidents as a hate crime.

Matsuoka said that zero-tolerance policies were complicated and that the state of California is moving away from the trend of expulsion because such policies had adverse effects on people of color.

Matsuoka said there has been no official or policy change on the ground at the school since the incident, and he could not say whether any students had been disciplined or whether they have been allowed to return to school.

“If there is a case that goes to the district attorney, it certainly inform us of our decision,” Matsuoka said.

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina 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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