Santa Barbara Junior High School.
Three students at Santa Barbara Junior High School are accused of committing a hate crime against a Black student last Wednesday. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

It took the Santa Barbara Unified School District six days — and only after public outcry — to send a districtwide statement regarding an alleged hate crime and use of a racial slur inside a Santa Barbara Junior High School classroom last Wednesday. 

More than a dozen people, including the parent of the victim, testified at Tuesday’s board of trustees meeting about the incident, stating that an eighth-grade student was called the “N” word and “monkey” last week.

During a class break, according to the boy’s mother, something that started as wrestling escalated into an attack in which three students held her son down, and a fourth put their knee on the victim’s head and yelled “George Floyd.”

A couple of the students switched places and one put a knee on the victim’s head and also yelled “George Floyd,” and then videotaped it.

The mother said her son has been called the “N” word three times at school — in transitional kindergarten, second grade and then last week.

“I feel very unsupported right now, and I demand a change take place in schools immediately,” she said.

Noozhawk is not identifying the mother to shield the identity of the student.

The mother said she informed seven people in the district’s administration about the incident, and the only response she received was from the school principal, Arielle Curry, via email.

Officials did not make a districtwide comment about the attack until a ParentSquare email went out at 10:01 p.m. Tuesday, about two hours after several people spoke out during the school board meeting.

“I am very disappointed that this is not a line item that you all should be talking about today,” Healing Justice Co-Organizer Leticia Forney Resch said. “I am outraged, saddened and so sad that I am here to talk about this anti-blackness, racist hate-crime that took place at Santa Barbara Junior High.”

According to California’s open meetings law, the Ralph M. Brown Act, agendas must go out at least 72 hours before the meeting, but agencies do have the ability to place a matter on the agenda as an emergency item. The district had time to place the matter on the agenda since it happened two full days before the document needed to go out.

Forney Resch said “the lack of consideration for the victim and the protection of the students is disgraceful.” She said there needs to be mental health support for the student and family immediately. She added that the district’s communication was “unacceptable.”

“I didn’t get any notification at the Santa Barbara Unified School District that there is violence happening in one of our schools,” Forney Resch said. “That is imperative that we all know what is happening in schools.”

The public comment at Tuesday night’s meeting seemed to jumpstart the district’s communication. The ParentSquare email sent out after the meeting contained several platitudes, such as “we stand with them in condemnation of any act of violence on our campuses, in this case hate violence related to a student’s race,” but was not specific about actions taken.

Another part of the ParentSquare statement said that “appropriate actions were taken with the students in question and restorative measures have been implemented in order to help our students understand the consequences of their actions.”

Noozhawk was told that the students were suspended, but the district declined to confirm that. 

Noozhawk on Wednesday asked several district officials questions about their response to the incident. Assistant Superintendent Frann Wageneck, through district spokesman Nick Masuda, offered the following timeline of the response:

Feb. 16: Santa Barbara Junior High School Principal Arielle Curry was notified by a staff member and the parent around 8:46 p.m. of the incident. Curry and the parent agreed to meet the next morning.

Feb. 17: Curry met with the parent “first thing in the morning” and notified “district leaders.” The district’s chief operating officer, Steve Venz, visited the school, as did Wageneck, to “consult on the investigation.” The students involved were interviewed by the district staff.

Feb. 18: According to Wageneck, Curry extended the offer of mental health counseling to the student through the mother. Curry did not return Noozhawk’s calls for this report. Curry put out a ParentSquare email to Santa Barbara Junior High School families only about the incident. 

Nothing was distributed publicly districtwide until after Tuesday night’s meeting. The district did not initially call law enforcement. The mother of the victim did.

“If the mother had not contacted law enforcement, then we would have,” Wageneck said. 

Noozhawk spoke with Santa Barbara Police Chief Barney Melekian, who said the child’s parents met with him the day after the attack. Melekian assigned a detective to the incident, and “it was a priority.”

However, Melekian said that the students — ages 12, 13 and 14 — must have an attorney present during a law enforcement interview, since they are juveniles, so they were never interviewed by law enforcement. Instead, written statements from the students’ interviews with district officials were turned over to the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office.

“We will not be conducting further interviews,” Melekian said. “The matter is really out of our hands now.”

District Attorney Joyce Dudley had not heard about the incident before being informed by Noozhawk on Wednesday afternoon. She said the office is awaiting a report from law enforcement or probation, but has not received anything.

Wageneck said the district’s “investigation resulted in holding students accountable for their actions using a combination of traditional discipline and alternative means of addressing behavior.” She also acknowledged that the district is learning from the situation, and that “we need to do a better job of communicating. That’s a growth area for us.”

Activist Chelsea Lancaster expressed disappointment with the district’s response and lack of communication. She said it is the district’s responsibility to take action and protect the “lives and souls of our Black children.”

“You don’t get to give proclamations at the beginning of the month, and then sit silently while one of our Black children is attacked 21 days later,” Lancaster said.

Board member Laura Capps said the powerful comments at the board meeting “thundered like an alarm bell.” She said she was shocked by the “anti-Black hate violence.”

“Clearly the student and his family did not get the support they felt they needed in the immediate aftermath, despite the best of intentions,” Capps said. “The right steps are now being taken. And more importantly, not enough is being done on a daily basis to create an anti-racist environment for our students, families and staff.

“We are committed to do better — urgently.”

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Joshua Molina

Joshua Molina, Noozhawk Staff Writer

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at