News From the Students, For the Students

The Griffin Gazette

News From the Students, For the Students

The Griffin Gazette

News From the Students, For the Students

The Griffin Gazette

Recent patterns in high school safety

How does social media affect safety at Los Al?
Lori Franzen
Although it seems like nationwide violence is increasing, everyday safety in American schools has actually improved. “Los Al Unified prioritizes ensuring the physical, social, and emotional safety of all students and staff,” said Jerry Friedman, LAUSD’s Director of Safety and Student Services.

LOS ALAMITOS, CA — Columbine. Sandy Hook. Uvalde. News headlines of horrific school shootings in the U.S. have struck terror in the hearts of educators, students, and parents for decades. Yet, despite the ever-looming threat of violence, teachers keep going to work and students continue attending school every day. Studies show that although shootings continue nationally, day-to-day danger in California schools has actually decreased.

In March 2023, scholars Rami Benbenishty, Ron Avi Astor, and Ilan Roziner published a study in the World Journal of Pediatrics about victimization in California middle and high schools from 2001 to 2019. With the California Healthy Kids Survey, they analyzed data from over 6 million students and found enlightening results.

Statistics indicate that victimization and weapon use reduced significantly during the 18 years, with the largest decrease in physical fighting. According to survey results, feelings of safety and belonging at school increased, as well as adult support.

“I’ve worked in communities that had higher crime rates and poverty before coming to Los Al most of my career, so I always say kids are pretty much the same and want the same things in their experiences in school,” said Mrs. Kraus, principal of Los Alamitos High School.

The authors wrote that shootings are only one part of American school safety and should be considered distinct from other types of violence, such as other weapon use, physical fights, theft, vandalism, verbal bullying, cyberbullying, and sexual harassment. It appears that reductions in overall school violence could be the result of more investment in safety in response to shootings.

“I think while we are a school that still has to watch closely, that sense of violence on our campus in a typical setting isn’t something we see very often,” Principal Kraus said.

The devastating news of school shootings around the U.S. blots out the smaller progressions schools have made to keep their students safe in a constantly changing environment. These moves toward increased safety include regular lockdown drills, campus security, and zero-tolerance bullying policies, all of which Los Al enforces.

A large factor in the increasing danger and violence surrounding American high school culture is the consequences of social media. Fear is a powerful weapon, and students with access to social media accounts with a wide audience of peers can leverage that to create an uncertain atmosphere.

Social media makes it much easier for people to spread messages, and this can have positive and negative ramifications. The fact that social media can shield people’s identities makes that even scarier. We feel much braver hiding behind the anonymity of the Internet.

Principal Kraus said that social media has shifted how schools tackle issues impacting the school.

Issues are not happening face to face, they are through keyboards, which makes it a more complex problem because we’re chasing the tale of something spreading through social media.”

— Principal Kraus

“Instances of students posting threatening or inappropriate comments can lead to confrontations between the creators and the victims of such comments,” said Jerry Friedman, Director of Safety and Student Services for LAUSD. “Fortunately, Los Al Unified [School District] uses various measures to monitor Internet usage and activity.”

With the Say Something anonymous reporting system, the district investigated a tip earlier this year. Through Say Something, a student reported a threat, later deemed not credible, referencing the date Friday, Sept. 22. 

Although the details of the threat were kept confidential, it seemed that the discovered threat was posted to social media and caused panic. Many Los Al parents, worried about safety, kept their students home from school on Sept. 22. Los Al took this threat, while non-credible, very seriously and employed the necessary precautions: connecting with law enforcement and keeping in constant communication with the community.

“Upon receiving reports of inappropriate or threatening comments, whether in person or on social media, school site administrators conduct thorough investigations,” Friedman said.

“We worked hand-in-hand with local, state, and federal agencies to quadruple-check the situation,” Principal Kraus said.

Some students felt genuinely concerned about coming to school that day, but others took advantage of the situation. Many teachers schedule tests for Fridays, and some students used the threat as an excuse to stay home and avoid schoolwork. The school instructed teachers to proceed with their usual business, but classes varied on how they handled class and makeup work.

My classes on Sept. 22 continued with their lesson plans. The only difference was a noticeably larger number of empty desks. In one of my classes, we took our test as planned, and those absent made it up the next week. However, according to Los Al students who attended school on Sept. 22, some had free periods, took easier quizzes that were easier than makeups, or received extra credit for being in class.

I’m not sure there was one correct way to handle the situation. I think it depends on the teacher, the class, and the students. Initially, it doesn’t seem fair to give students who showed up an easier time when those who stayed home may have done so because they or their parents feared for their safety. On the other hand, what about those who played their parents to get out of a test? Is it fair for them to have an extra day off when their peers came to school to learn?

I believe it’s up to Griffins and their families regarding how to handle events like Sept. 22. But I also think that student gossip, rumors, and misinformation, all exacerbated by social media, can blow incidents out of proportion and create excess fear.

While I understand the risk and distress of coming to school on a date like Sept. 22, I don’t believe Los Al would allow students to come to school if they believed we would be in harm’s way. With the extra security and police presence on campus on Sept. 22, Principal Kraus said it was probably “the safest day ever” at Los Al.

“We always honor family and the positions they take,” she added.

One can wonder if not coming to school on a day like Sept. 22 gives power to the person who created the threat: power over their peers, teachers, staff, families, and the community as a whole. An anomaly in Los Al’s daily attendance for Sept. 22 has a “significant” impact on the school, according to Principal Kraus.

“That’s a lot of money,” she said. “It’s probably six months of one teacher’s salary.”

They tend to happen on a Friday or a Monday and near big testing days. I try not to be jaded, but it is pretty frustrating when you see that’s when they come up.”

— Principal Kraus

Multiple people also observed that these kinds of threats often plan for Fridays; this doesn’t seem like a coincidence to me.

“We knew there were going to be groups who say, ‘This is a great opportunity for me to get a three-day weekend,’” Principal Kraus said.

But despite the fact that these threats could just be students wanting a longer weekend or an extra day to study, Los Al will always take the utmost care in dealing with any potential endangerment to student safety.

“Los Al Unified prioritizes ensuring the physical, social, and emotional safety of all students and staff,” Friedman said.

Our society tends to place an emphasis on the negative, the scary statistics that, in reality, don’t reflect national context and the progress schools have made with student safety. In a time where violence seems only to be increasing, it’s important to remember that there is still much to be grateful for. Griffins can come to campus feeling safe because of the measures Los Al takes to protect us.

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About the Contributor
Bella Kim
Bella Kim, Editor-in-Chief | Co-anchor
Bella Kim is a junior at Los Alamitos High School. This is her second year with the Griffin Gazette. Bella has won two Best of SNO awards, for her articles "A Los Al senior’s podcast: ‘The Sy-STEM’" and "Los Al sophomore to compete in Olympic Trials for sailing." Over the summer, she was part of the first cohort of JCal, the Asian American Journalists Association and CalMatters' journalism program for California high school students. Last August, Bella finished her five-month internship with Spotlight Schools. Currently, she is The Youth Center's marketing intern, a contributor to L.A. Times High School Insider, and the first member of the South Bay Youth Journalism program. This summer, she will represent California at the Al Neuharth Free Spirit and Journalism Conference in Washington D.C. Bella has a passion for ballet and has been dancing for over ten years. She dances at Los Alamitos Ballet School and performed in their "Sugarplum's Realm" production last December. When she’s not in the studio, Bella enjoys spending time with family and friends, reading, writing poetry, and going to the beach. She also likes musicals, roller coasters, and collecting bookstore tote bags. On campus, Bella is co-president of the Literature Appreciation Club. As editor-in-chief, she is excited to lead the Gazette in its second year of publication and co-anchor the first year of Griffin Gazette Live broadcast news. You can contact Bella at [email protected].
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  • Z

    Z ArJan 9, 2024 at 9:48 pm

    Well written and Well thought out!! Keep up the good work

  • K

    Katie ArnoultDec 15, 2023 at 12:27 pm

    YEEAAA BELLA! Amazing job on this article, I’m so proud of you!