A student involved in a brutal attack at Santa Ynez Valley Union High School appeared in Santa Barbara County Juvenile Court on Friday as those on campus continued to deal with the aftermath of Tuesday’s fight between two girls.
The 15-year-old girl, whose name was not released due to her age, has been charged with one felony count of assault in connection with the fight on campus.
She appeared before Judge Arthur Garcia, who scheduled further proceedings for April 21.
The second girl involved was treated at Santa Ynez Valley Cottage Hospital and released the same day.
A cell phone video of the fight was posted online showing two student bystanders.
“Because the fight was posted on Instagram, it immediately got the attention of members of the community, and before SYVUHS administration had even time to investigate the causes of the fight and determine appropriate consequences, some members of the public began demanding to know what was going to be done to send a strong message that fighting is not tolerated at SYHS,” Principal Mark Swanitz said in 2-page community letter available here.
The school has had three unrelated fights in recent weeks, all three of which were posted on social media and sparked concerns from members of the public.
“The magnitude of an investigation of this type is tremendous,” Swanitz said. “It involves many interviews with many witnesses, lots of adrenaline which affects the recall of events, loyalties, perceptions, and many other factors. It requires a lot of time to get it right, and it’s important to get it right.
“Unfortunately, this incident is difficult to investigate because one student who was involved is not able to provide testimony due to the fact that she was in Juvenile Hall.”
On Friday, Santa Ynez Valley residents noted a larger-than-normal presence of law enforcement at the campus.
“Due to social media reports that indicated the possibility of students bringing weapons to Santa Ynez Valley Union High School, the Sheriff’s Office increased law enforcement presence on campus to safeguard the community,” sheriff’s spokeswoman Kelly Hoover said. “The reports were determined to be false and unfounded.”
At the end of the week, school administrators intervened upon learning of a movement encouraging students to wear white to show support for one girl or black to show support for the other on Friday.
“Because the protest had the potential to be divisive and volatile, the school gave the students a third option: orange for unity and Pirate Pride,” Swanitz told Noozhawk. “We told students that they couldn’t wear predominantly white or predominantly black clothing to school.”
The school colors are orange and black.
“We believe that because of this prohibition, students started a rumor on social media that they were going to bring knives to school today,” he added Friday afternoon.
As a precaution, the school arranged for increased law enforcement officers.
“In the end, students answered the call and a significant majority showed up in orange,” Swanitz said. “A group dressed in orange even lined Highway 246 expressing their Pirate Pride and wish for unity publicly.”
Officials never locked down the campus, and no weapons were discovered, he added. There also were no confrontation or altercations, Swanitz added.
“The worst thing that happened today was that the Student Services Office was inundated with parents checking their kids out of school once the rumor became more widely known,” he added.
The need to patrol the campus and deal with the influx of parents meant the investigation into the fight had stalled. School officials are seeking information about what prompted the altercation and how the fight started, Swanitz said.
So far, only the girl who recorded the video and posted it online has received consequences, Swanitz said. He did not spell out what those were, adding that he is attempting to be transparent without violating student privacy or compromising the investigation.
Friday marked the last day of school before spring break for the high school’s students, the principal said in letter posted to the school’s website. Classes will resume April 18.
Swanitz, who graduated from the high school, noted in his letter that the incident had caused “a great deal of hurt, some would even say a rift” in the school and wider community.
“Like you, the faculty, staff and administration of Santa Ynez High School, I want nothing more than to put this behind us and begin healing, along with having a plan to make sure this never happens again,” Swanitz said.
“When it comes to school discipline, I recognize that there is great difference between acting impulsively and sending a swift but potentially inaccurate message and taking the time to get the facts right and sending a firm but solidly accurate message.
“The two young women who fought, the bystanders in the background and those off camera, and the person who filmed the encounter all deserve our best efforts to get it right. “