Fairlands Elementary School parents have been expressing their frustration about how the Pleasanton Unified School District handled the situation when an unauthorized man was found sleeping in a campus storage room with several knives nearly two weeks ago.
About 20 parents, including a former Fairlands teacher, spoke out during the Oct. 12 school board meeting to tell district officials that they must take immediate actions to improve the school's safety protocols and practices so that something like that never happens again.
"We need immediate accountability at the top," Dana Borys, a mother of two children who attend Fairlands, told the board on Oct. 12. "Superintendent David Haglund and Fairlands principal Heidi Deeringhoff must take responsibility now for this lapse in security to ensure personally this won't happen again, otherwise there may be blood on your hands ... This was a very close call."
On Oct. 6, Fairlands students and staff experienced a lockdown after school employees found 32-year-old Rhodney Henderson, a transient out of Berkeley, sleeping in a storage area on the second floor of the school, according to authorities.
Henderson was found wearing only his boxers and lying on a couch surrounded by open food and drinks, according to a probable cause declaration written by Pleasanton Police Department Officer Mario Guillermo. It was later discovered that he had concealed three knives -- which police believe he took from the school's kitchen -- and a hammer underneath the pillow that he was sleeping on in the storage room.
Henderson has been charged by the Alameda County District Attorney's Office with two felony counts: having weapons on school grounds and second-degree burglary.
The criminal complaint states that he served time behind bars after being convicted for second-degree robbery in Contra Costa County in December 2009 and again in 2011. Due to those two past convictions, he was not eligible for probation.
It also states that he was on probation during the time of his arrest on Oct. 6. Henderson is being held at Santa Rita Jail without bail and was set to be arraigned on these charges on Wednesday (Oct. 18) at the East County Hall of Justice in Dublin, according to Alameda County Sheriff's Office Inmate Locator online.
Guillermo also stated in his report that when PPD received the call on Oct. 6, dispatch told officers that they had received a call that was possibly related the night before at around 8:24 p.m. of a person jumping the fence near the Fairlands multipurpose room.
"We received a call from a resident reporting someone jumping the fence. Officers responded to the school but they were not able to locate the individual," PPD Sgt. Marty Billdt told the Weekly.
After examining video footage, it was later determined that Henderson did jump the fence and enter the school through an unlocked door while the night custodians were finishing their rounds of cleaning, authorities said.
Henderson was discovered at around 10:47 a.m. Oct. 6 and PPD arrived less than 10 minutes later to arrest Henderson before students and staff were given the all-clear notice at around 11:20 a.m., authorities said. No injuries or violence were reported during the school lockdown.
What followed after the incident were days of criticism by parents who said that the district did not provide timely details, did not provide staff with proper safety protocols and should have done more preventative measures so that the intruder could not have entered the school in the first place.
"Teachers truly put our students first to protect them before ourselves," Angela Girod, a parent of two former PUSD students and a former teacher at Fairlands from 2014 to 2021, told the board during public comment on Oct. 12. "But did the teachers have all the tools in their training to truly protect those students? Did they have the wherewithal to actually know those kids were going to be safe? No. Not by any fault of theirs, but by the complete lack of preparedness, inconsistent training and practice provided by the district and by each school's site."
That's why Tomasz Borys said he and wife Dana organized a parent meeting on Oct. 11 so that a group of roughly 30 could brainstorm together on demands that they presented to the board the following day.
Tomasz Borys told the Weekly that he remembers when he got that initial lockdown notification on Oct. 6 and when his wife went over to the school to see what was happening, which is where she saw her daughter in the back area of the school.
"Our daughter was with a couple of friends and they ran up to the fence explaining to her that they're scared," Tomasz Borys told the Weekly.
He and all the other parents presented five demands to the school board on Oct. 12. for how the district needs to move forward with measures to prevent anything like this happening again.
The lead demand from parents was that the district needs to take immediate action to make sure that the school's doors and gates are locked at all times so that visitors have to be admitted upon approval.
"There's absolutely no excuse for the doors to be unlocked or wide open," Tomasz Borys said. "Someone from the inside can actually hit a button and unlock the doors, so I'm not quite sure why they're not actively utilizing that."
A few parents at the board meeting said that they actually witnessed the school's front gates open during school hours without any supervision.
"Even yesterday morning ... I went to drop my kid and I still saw that the gate was still kept open and there was no staff manning that gate," said Vijin Venugopalan, a new Pleasanton resident who moved to the city from Singapore mainly for its reputation of having good schools. "What if an intruder acts like a parent and enters at that point of time? It's a possibility, right? It doesn't have to be the intruder could enter only in the nighttime, right? It can happen during the daytime."
Stephanie Mayer, mother of a 7-year-old Fairlands student, shared a similar story of going to the school last week and seeing its front-door wide open.
"On Wednesday I personally witnessed the front door being wide open," Mayer told the board on Oct. 12. "I took a picture, went inside and asked what was going on and I got a BS excuse of why it was left open."
Parents also called for the district to work with PPD to do a full review of the video footage during the incident and provide a debrief to see where things went wrong so that the district can fix those issues.
"There are some question marks, you know, was it just once? Could it have been twice, could it have been three times," Tomasz Borys said.
He said this with the context that some students have mentioned that they have seen Henderson at the school before.
"There were students that mentioned that they've seen this individual around the campus multiple times, throughout several weeks before this incident," he said.
Tomasz Borys also said parents want an explanation on why no action was taken after the individual called PPD the night before saying that they saw someone jump the fence. He said that if the district or the school itself wasn't contacted, then that is a problem, which is why the parents are also asking for a better partnership and communication between PPD and the district.
Parents are additionally calling for an overhaul of current security and lockdown processes including changing procedures for custodians when they clean the campus at night and creating a group of individuals who sweep the campus at night and in the morning before teachers and staff get there.
They said that lockdown procedures specifically need to be reassessed because, contrary to what the district said in their initial notices to parents, things did not go smoothly during the lockdown on Oct. 6.
"Our fourth and fifth graders were at recess and not secure in a building at the time," Christine Lutz, another Fairlands parent, told the board. "My fourth grader ran into any building she could find. This was not mentioned at all in the district communication. I'm not sure if this was intentional lying but it has made me lose the last of any trust I had in this district."
Tomasz Borys said while the district tried to portray it as a situation where nobody got physically hurt -- which is accurate -- and that everything would be fine, to him it was a big deal because the breach could have been a lot worse.
"In this situation, it's kind of weird and sick that I'm saying this, but we got lucky," he said. "We got extremely lucky because this could have been a million times worse. Can you imagine if this person was armed?"
During his superintendent report out to the board on Oct. 12, Haglund did his best to address many of the concerns that parents had about the whole situation and said that while it was a difficult incident, he appreciated Fairlands staff and administration's swift response.
"I want to thank the entire Fairlands community and the team at the school site for their efforts to keep our students safe, even as they themselves were frightened," Haglund said.
He also said that while the investigation is still ongoing, the district will work on communicating any new developments in a transparent manner.
He added that while communication is not a simple task, the district tries to do so with "the utmost honesty, based on the information that we have in our hands at the time."
"If you've done communications, you know that often you give a message only to find out two minutes later that there's additional details that you didn't include," Haglund said. "That doesn't indicate that someone was trying to hide information from you. It just means that we're trying to communicate with the best information and the most accurate information that we have on hand at the time."
The superintendent did however mention that the district took notes during the Oct. 12 meeting and would be communicating back out to parents regarding the district's attempts to address some of the issues parents brought forward that night.
"These conversations are critical learning opportunities for our team, and will help to strengthen our sense -- both our sense -- of safety and community," Haglund said. "Please know that the district staff is committed to working collaboratively with each of our site teams to enhance the safety protocols for our staff and students at each PUSD school site."
But as PUSD works on enhancing safety protocols, Tomasz Borys made it clear that he and the rest of the parents want to continue to be a part of those discussions.
"We want to see what these protocols are ... and more importantly, what the timelines are going to be," he said.
The last demand from parents ties into that request as they called for a special meeting to be held with Fairlands administration, staff, parents, district leaders, custodian representatives and PPD so that they can look for tangible solutions.
The board collectively agreed at the end of the Oct. 12 meeting to hold a community meeting at Fairlands sometime in the near future after they review the incident more and confirm that they could get PPD out there as well.