When PMS parent Ghezal Beliakoff saw the video, she was outraged and posted it on social media asking people to identify the perpetrator. "Up to this point, my daughter would talk about fights (at PMS) and I didn't know (the extent)," Beliakoff said. "Then the video was posted two weeks later."
"It was straight out assault," Beliakoff said. "I went to the police station saying I want to press charges. I want to hire a lawyer and I want to press charges against this girl."
The Pleasanton Police Department doesn't have the authority in this case, though. The school district is responsible for students from the time they get to school until they return home -- on and off campus.
Of course, some incidents will rise to the level of law enforcement being brought in. But how officers respond to calls involving students and the outcomes are not "prescriptive," explained PPD Chief David Swing.
"There are several factors (when) our officers respond to a call," Swing said. "Age is certainly a consideration, the totality of the circumstances, the intent of the law, those are all different factors officers take into consideration."
PPD Lt. Erik Silacci said in cases such as fights, there could be police and school consequences depending on the student's age but noted that people under the age of 14 are generally not arrested per California Penal Code.
"The goal of the juvenile justice system is to focus on rehabilitation," Silacci said.
But the wheels of justice -- even "restorative justice" -- turn slowly.
Patrick Gannon, director of communications for the Pleasanton Unified School District, said something that stuck with me. He said, "Social media can amplify a single incident exponentially."
It definitely did in this case.
The fact it was posted over a weekend added fuel to the fire. It's only natural that viewers wanted immediate action and definitive consequences. When that didn't happen, they got frustrated, causing further amplification.
PMS principal Joe Nguyen did send an email the day after the altercation, most likely before the video was posted. It said, in part, "This behavior is unacceptable ... We have identified the students and will hold them accountable..."
But only the school community received it, so everyone else had several days to stew and ask why nothing was being done.
"We take student discipline seriously," Ed Diolazo, PUSD's deputy superintendent of student support services, told me. "Because we are educators first, we need to consider consequences in terms of what will support all students involved both socially and emotionally as they learn and mature into adults. We follow a well-defined process and investigate each instance thoroughly in order to determine the appropriate outcome for students."
The well-defined process is based on the California Education Code; it starts with an investigation, which can take weeks or months.
We want the people who are making decisions with children involved to take their time. They only have one shot at getting it right, and they need to get it right.
In his email, Nguyen also addressed another aspect of this awful situation that shocked viewers: the bystanders videotaping, cheering and high-fiving. He implored caregivers to remind their students that if they see something, they should say something.
"Taking videos has become a natural response whenever something occurs within the community," Nguyen wrote. "We ask that students not promote inappropriate behavior by taking videos or urging peers to encourage the wrong behavior."
"I've been here for almost 14 years. This is my home," Beliakoff said. "We choose to live here because of the environment and because of the safety and it's completely being taken away from us."
There is no doubt this incident rocked our community and made us fearful -- for ourselves and our children. Nguyen encouraged students if they see something they should say something. That's good advice for everyone as we restore our sense of safety and work together to ensure this never happens again.
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