Letter to the Editor: Tragic Incident on Campus Shows Need for Review of Protocols

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Editor’s Note: This letter was also sent to the BUSD School Board

Letter to the Editor:

With every member of our community, I was saddened and shocked to learn of the sexual assaults that occurred at Burbank High School on March 6, 2023. My heart aches for the victims and for the entire campus.

As the former principal at BHS, seeing that news was a gut punch, and as a parent of a soon-to-be teenage daughter, I now can’t help but worry about her safety when I drop her off each day in the District’s care.

I applaud your promise of an immediate review of safety protocols in BUSD, the Superintendent’s message of an internal investigation and President Ferguson’s invitation to a Special Board Meeting Friday evening.

In your search for answers and in the spirit of transparency, I encourage you to make certain that any third-party investigator reports findings directly to the Board and then released to the public. The current practice of direct reporting to Superintendent Matt Hill insulates him from criticism and scrutiny where it is often warranted. After all, at the end of the day, isn’t this his school district?

As a Board, you should be aware of the following:

COMMUNICATION:

Some community members were critical of Principal Julie Markussen’s initial vague email of the incident. This is unfair. Her communication was approved (and likely edited) by the Superintendent or District staff. When incidents of broad concern occur on a school campus, the messaging and outreach is ultimately handled by Hill. I know this firsthand and through direct experiences.

By failing to inform parents immediately that there were multiple sexual assaults on campus, BUSD risked the potential that other victims may not come forward in a timely fashion after experiencing trauma.

BUSD needs a Public Information Officer. In a small example, the main page of your website has photos that are embarrassingly old, but in urgent examples such as this latest incident, it potentially puts students at risk. 

CAMPUS SAFETY:

As early information was released, I knew the intruder likely came through the school’s parking garage as it is open with access to campus before school, during the open lunch, at student release, and during times where the public has access to the facility under the joint-use agreement. This has been pointed out as a vulnerability multiple times through several site leadership regimes the last ten years. Clearly, it remains a vulnerable access point and liability to the district. Please review this and all relayed site concerns regarding safety and support your schools in long-term solutions.

CAMPUS SUPERVISION:

BHS has previously requested additional campus supervision as the only BUSD campus on two major streets (Glenoaks and Third) with multiple entrances/exits directly to these streets. These requests were denied by District leadership with the rationale that the two high schools needed to maintain equitable staffing. Maintaining the same number of campus supervisors is keeping things “equal,” not “equitable” when there are unique needs at both campuses.

Regardless, five campus supervisors for sites of 2400+ students is insufficient. (By reference, the high school in my charter organization has just under 500 students with a security guard at the single entrance point and ten campus supervisors to cover four floors). Please increase campus supervision at all BUSD schools.

REPAIRS:

The District’s Facilities Team is understaffed and thus incapable of addressing safety concerns raised by the sites in a timely fashion. There were times we submitted work orders to address gates that did not lock, doors and PA systems that malfunctioned, and other safety matters that took weeks or months to correct. They need more staff.

SCHOOL RESOURCE OFFICERS:

Both comprehensive high schools need a designated School Resource Officer (SRO) stationed at each site during their school days. The parked Burbank Police vehicle was a major deterrent for a potential intruder on campus. I have nothing but respect and admiration for the SRO I worked with for three years at BHS. More importantly, he was amazing with our students who felt connected and safe with him on our campus. Please restore a full-time SRO on both BUSD high school campuses.

Thank you for your time and attention to the above.

Respectfully,

Tom Crowther
Former BUSD Employee & Current Parent