Some parents are calling for administrators at Pleasanton Middle School to step down and for the city to work with the school district to address what they say is a longstanding problem of fighting and bullying at the campus.
Tiffany Karaiyan was one of the mothers who told the Pleasanton City Council on Feb. 7, during the non-agenda public comments section of the council meeting, that as a mother of a fifth grader who is set to attend Pleasanton Middle School soon, she fears for her child's safety.
"I'm terrified to send him there," Karaiyan said. "I have heard nothing but horrible things about PMS. The reputation of violence, bullying, intimidation and fear is pervasive in the city when you talk about that school."
The public controversy escalated on Jan. 19 after a video was posted on social media showing a girl, later identified as a Pleasanton Middle School student, punching and stomping on the head of another student in front of the Pleasanton Public Library.
The video went viral around the community and prompted parents to attend both the council and the Pleasanton Unified School District Board of Trustees public meetings last week to voice their concerns on not just this latest beating, but what they say is a culture of violence at Pleasanton Middle School.
"What we saw in January was not the first time. I have sent the school district and the current principal at Pleasanton Middle videos of beatings … on school campus, at the libraries (and) around town," Sara Campbell told the council during the Feb. 7 meeting. "Heads being stomped on and kicked like soccer balls is not a fight, that is a beating."
Campbell was also one of the parents who attended the school board meeting two days later and followed up by saying that the current administration at Pleasanton Middle School needs to be replaced because they are being dismissive of parent concerns.
That sentiment was also shared by several of the parents at the council meeting.
"The teachers have their hands tied to correct this behavior at any grade level," Pleasanton resident Vicki LaBarge said. "Administration of the PMS school is either ineffective or unable to provide a safe environment for all students."
She said that her grandson, who is currently attending Hearst Elementary School, was also recently bullied.
"The answer is not moving kids who are bullied to another school or homeschooling them," LaBarge said. "The answer is holding parents responsible for providing resources to the school to help them combat the behaviors that we see at PMS and earlier grades."
Both city and district officials aimed to assure parents that they will be working closely with each other to find solutions to their concerns citing a joint city and district meeting on April 20 where they plan on talking about this issue.
"I want to highlight a comment made -- which are smart, actionable, measurable, steps to go forward," Vice Mayor Jack Balch said during the City Council meeting. "We're going to have a city-school liaison (meeting) in April … I really hope by then, we have identified statistically, measurably how we're going to get a path forward. If a (school resource officer) has to be dedicated to the school itself, I hope the school district will evaluate that so that we can hear what the school district needs to achieve true solutions."
While all of the parents said they want to see more funds going toward the police SRO program, they want the city to add additional funds for more community officers at all the schools.
"I would like to encourage our city officials to come together with our police department and our school board and school administrators to develop a clear plan to prevent this culture of bullying and fights," Ghezal Beliakoff told the council. "We need to have a zero tolerance policy for those who are bullying, assaulting and also those who are encouraging this behavior. This has to stop before a child is seriously hurt."
But while Mayor Karla Brown attempted to assure parents that they will be working to find a solution, City Manager Gerry Beaudin emphasized that this is primarily a school district issue.
"Public safety is a city of Pleasanton responsibility, but when it comes to schools and how discipline and public safety is administered in the schools, we do have a memorandum of understanding and that is the heart of the discussion about how the district and the school operate," Beaudin said referencing the MOU between the district and the city on how police officers are deployed to schools.
"But in terms of our budget, and the things that we're doing here, operationally, it is a completely different set of funding source and set of different responsibilities here at the city relative to the school board and the school district," Beaudin added.
Pleasanton Middle School principal Joe Nguyen also spoke during the council meeting, saying that he is hearing the community's concerns and said that student safety will continue to be at the forefront of his administration.
He added that they will continue to engage with the community on how to make adjustments to how they can prevent this from happening again.
"I have no tolerance for violence in schools, and that deserves a response, both disciplinary and any other way that we can do that, because we're more than just an educational … institution. We have to teach how to be people and how to be better people," Nguyen said.
PUSD Superintendent David Haglund also commented on the situation during his report to the school board during the Feb. 9 meeting, but not before first getting the location confused as Hart Middle School, as opposed to Pleasanton Middle School.
At the board meeting, Haglund said that the district is "working with site administration to address your concerns and to ensure a safe, inclusive and academically rich environment is accessible for all of our students every day."