Parents say their son was wrongfully suspended from Monrovia High School after he warned others about a possible school shooting threat on social media in September.
Wayne Perry believes the punishment for his son, who does not wish for his name to be published, was partially motivated by race and a result of a rushed investigation by authorities.
“They rushed to judgement and just assumed my son created this whole mess, and because of it, they tried to expel him from the school,” Perry said. “They realized after our attorney pointed it out to them that they had violated a lot of rules in the process.”
His son was one among several other students who reported school shooting threats to administration and took to the social media app Snapchat to warn peers afterward. His posts included identifying information of a student who made several public threats in school to shoot people in September.
According to Perry, only his son seems to have been questioned by police officers and received a suspension notice stating he “disrupted school activities” and “intentionally harassed, threatened, or intimidated, creating a hostile education environment.”
Perry believes his son was singled out because he is Black, among other reasons.
“The school jumped to conclusions, and they did not do a thorough investigation,” Perry said. “Had they done so; they would have realized that my son was not the only one who was warning people about the threat,” Perry said. “Unfortunately, in our society, in public schools, Black kids are suspended and potentially expelled and at an alarming rate, way more than white students.”
Perry also believes the school was looking for a target to blame when students didn’t show up to school out of fear.
“It seems like they’re trying to make an example out of my son, because they lost money, when a bunch of school kids didn’t show, because they were scared that they would get shot up,” Perry said.
Perry is now demanding for the suspension to be removed from his son’s record.
Monrovia High School Principle Kirk McGuiness disputes claims that the school singled out any students.
“We take safety seriously. We act on any and all tip info promptly and thoroughly. We do not take chances with those incidents. There is no retribution for reporting, but there can be consequences if that reporting is false or incomplete or unfairly impact the safety of staff or students,” McGuiness said. According to McGuiness, follow-up for each student involved in an investigation will vary based on that individual.
When threats were reported, the school sent out an automated phone call to parents saying the threat was not credible. Perry believes this was not enough. He criticizes school administration for having a lack of communication with parents in responding to violent threats.
“What we’ve learned in this process is that there is no process. They need to come up with a communication plan where they effectively notify the parents and don’t try to downplay it,” Perry said.
McGuiness said there is no penalty for students speaking up; however, he cautioned against hasty usage of social media, which he said can cause the rapid proliferation of inaccurate information.
“We have a comprehensive safety plan we have in place that is reviewed annually. We have standard practices and procedures, and when a statement is made, we bring the student into the office and conduct an appropriate investigation,” McGuiness said. “It’s our recommendation that we do not resort to social media. Instead, come speak to us so that we can conduct an adequate investigation.”
“I think he was right in doing what he did. Any responsible person would do the same thing,” Perry said.
Perry’s son has fallen behind in his courses after being out of school for 12 days. He is currently suffering anxiety as a result of the incident.
“He’s not eating well; he’s not sleeping well. He feels as if the school doesn’t want him there,” Perry said.
As a high school junior, he is currently preparing for college admissions, and the family worries this will affect the student’s opportunities to be admitted to college. Perry said his son wants to go to Stanford or University of California, Berkeley.
According to California Department of Education, African Americans students made up 17% of total suspensions in the state in 2017 and 2018, despite being only 6% of the total student population.
A ban on suspending students for “willful defiance,” a catchall term for disruptive behavior critics see as disproportionately applied to minority students, in grades K-12, was signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom on Sept. 9 and will go into effect on July 1.