Assistant Superintendent Frann Wageneck told members of the Santa Barbara Unified School District.
Assistant Superintendent Frann Wageneck told members of the Santa Barbara Unified School District board of education on Tuesday that violence, suspensions and the number of students carrying knives are on the rise. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

Violence, suspensions and the number of students carrying knives are on the rise in the Santa Barbara Unified School District. 

Assistant Superintendent Frann Wageneck delivered that candid assessment at Tuesday night’s board meeting. Superintendent Cary Matsuoka was absent from the meeting. 

“I don’t bring great news to you tonight,” Wageneck said. “It troubles me greatly as a 45-year-resident of this community. We just need to keep working at it to get better.”

According to the data Wageneck presented, there has been a 26-percent increase in suspensions related to drugs and alcohol since 2016, and 4.2 percent of the district’s students have been suspended at least one time in the past year.

The suspensions primarily involve socioeconomically disadvantaged students, those with disabilities, and English language learners. Marijuana and alcohol use is the most common reason for suspensions.

Since 2016, there has been a 32-percent increase in violence, with the cases revolving around harassment and bullying. Wageneck said heightened gang-related incidents in the community and increased incidences of cyber-bullying have led to confrontations in school.

In addition, Wageneck said, there’s been a 41-percent increase in weapons-related offenses since 2016, with students primarily carrying locking-blade knives in excess of 2.5 inches.

“In one of our three traditional high schools, maybe students have been found with knives anywhere from once a month to five times a month,” Wageneck said. 

And according to a California Healthy Kids Survey, 36 percent of ninth-graders do not feel safe in high school.

One of the only bright spots in the data presented was that school expulsions are down, at a four-year-low, partly because of a change in policy that only expels students if they are an immediate threat to themselves or others on campus. 

“This is really disappointing data, and it is hard for me to see any of the silver-lining on this,” said school board member Kate Ford, who added that the fact kids don’t feel safe and aren’t safe is “a state of emergency.”

Wageneck said she agreed.

“I think students bring into school a lot of their feelings of being unsafe out in the community as well,” Wageneck said. “It comes down to having classrooms where students feel cared for, loved. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs have to be met in order for students to feel comfortable in school.”

Education activist Sheridan Rosenberg was outraged by the data.

Education activist Sheridan Rosenberg.

Education activist Sheridan Rosenberg says she is ourages by data showing that violence, suspensions and the number of students carrying knives are on the rise in the Santa Barbara Unified School District. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

“I think the cabinet should be fired,” Rosenberg said. “I really think there is a lot of ill will between these people and parents.”

Rosenberg said she had to pull her daughter out of Santa Barbara High School, even though she didn’t want to.

“It’s too dangerous,” Rosenberg said. “It’s too dangerous. We should have the safest, best schools in California, but we don’t.”

Board member Wendy Sims-Moten said the district should consider including students in workgroups to address some of the problems, because without students talks, it’s just the “same people, different day.”

“I was reading something about walking in others’ shoes,” Sims-Moten said. “It’s hard to look at others’ shoes when you are so comfortable.”

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