‘They terrorized the kids.’ School board calls for discipline over active shooter drill

A superintendent in Fresno County faced tough criticism Tuesday and potential discipline from the school board in connection with a controversial active-shooter drill in which a school employee wore a mask and held a fake gun while shaking classroom doors.

Teachers and parents called for Raisin City Schools Superintendent Juan Sandoval’s ouster at a special meeting of the school board on Tuesday afternoon.

Sandoval did not respond to a request for comment and did not attend the special meeting.

The Raisin City School Board of Trustees on Tuesday voted 5-0 to take “appropriate disciplinary action.” Trustees said they would schedule another meeting to announce details of those actions and allow Sandoval to respond publicly at that future meeting.

It was unclear before press time what form that action may take or when the future meeting will be scheduled, but at least one trustee voiced his displeasure with the active-shooter drill and appeared to suggest changes were needed.

“To put them through a situation like this is, in my professional opinion, absolutely incorrect,” Trustee Anthony Monreal said. “Other districts do not do that with kids present. We were not told. That’s part of the culture that needs to be changed here at Raisin City.”

Monreal said it was fortunate the incident wasn’t witnessed by any law enforcement officers or armed citizens.

“If someone had witnessed this, someone may have died,” he said.

Raisin City Teacher’s Association President Kim Cooper said Sandoval’s authorization of the drill frightened and potentially traumatized the students and staff, who were not aware the lockdown on June 3 was only a drill.

“This is just the latest and most horrendous example of his poor decision-making and judgment,” she said, “and we are calling on him to step down or for the board to remove him.”

The California Teachers Association said Sandoval displayed an “outrageous lack of judgment” and is also calling for his resignation, according to a statement released Tuesday by President E. Toby Boyd.

“While the sad reality is that school shooting and lockdown drills have become a necessary safety precaution at schools across the nation, such drills are intended to prevent or minimize both physical and psychological trauma to students, not to cause actual trauma and leave drill participants terrified,” the statement reads in part.

Several parents spoke in support of Sandoval during Tuesday’s meeting, including a woman who said her children learned more because the drill was realistic.

The drill

When a lockdown alarm went off the afternoon of June 3, some teachers hadn’t been notified that a drill would be happening, according to third-grade teacher Danny Nason.

He said students got into their lockdown positions behind the cupboard and he went to lock the classroom door when he noticed a person outside with what appeared to be a rifle.

“My blinds were barely open, so I ducked down to see who it was carrying the rifle,” Nason said. “I was hoping this was a drill, but things didn’t make sense. I told my students that they had to stay down and remain as quiet as possible because I saw a gun outside of the classroom.”

Nason said he sprang into action believing he may have to fight off a gunman. He grabbed the fire extinguisher off the wall and stood by the door, watching. He heard someone yelling outside and some students in his class were screaming and crying.

“My door was forcefully shaken,” he said. Then it began to open.

“When I had a clear shot, I swung the fire extinguisher at whoever was coming in,” Nason said. As soon as he realized it was a school employee, he diverted the swing.

The employee asked if everything was OK, according to Nason, to which he said he replied, “No. What is wrong with you people?”

‘They were all laughing’

Nason said Sandoval told him it was his fault the “gunman” entered his classroom – it was because his students were making noise. “I have a special needs student who was inconsolable. She would not sit down or stop talking,” Nason said. “There was nothing that I could do to console her at the time.”

Superintendent Juan Sandoval Raisin City Elementary School District

Nason said what made matters worse was after the drill when the school held an assembly. There he saw the cafeteria employees, janitors and office workers he said were involved with carrying out the drill.

“They were all laughing,” Nason said. “They thought the entire situation was hilarious. While they were celebrating, my students were extremely upset. Some were crying, others were asking me to call their mothers because they had either a stomachache, headache, or wanted to go home.”

Jessica Garza said her daughter suffers from anxiety and believed the gun used in the drill was real. “She said all her classmates were either crying or praying they wouldn’t die,” Garza said. “That disturbed me.”

She’s disappointed in the way the school handled the drill.

“My daughter has to see a therapist weekly for her anxiety, so just imagine the children that were frightened that day (and) have no outlet for what they went through,” she said.

Nason said even though it’s been more than a month since the drill, thinking about it brings back the same emotions he felt that day.

“They terrorized the kids,” he said. “What it did to me. I had to fight for 30 kids. I hope that they can understand that what they did to the students was wrong and that they never do this again.”

District troubles

It’s not the first time the administration has been called into question. In June, Raisin City Elementary was found to be swept up in a statewide scheme involving charter school fraud, though no one at the school was charged with any crime.

There has also been a shakeup of school board members and superintendents in recent years.

In 2006, Sandoval said police shocked him with stun guns more than 20 times at a Parlier Unified board meeting after he wasn’t given his allotted time to speak during public comment.

Sandoval, who used to work for Parlier Unified, was arrested on misdemeanor charges of disrupting a public meeting and resisting arrest, according to Bee archives.

Raisin City Elementary was audited by the state in 2017, and the report found that “sufficient evidence exists to indicate that fraud, misappropriation of district funds and/or assets or other illegal activities may have occurred” at the school district.

Ashleigh Panoo: 559-441-6010, @AshleighPanoo
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