Father says school district failed to follow procedures, protect son in Balboa HS incident

The father of a Balboa High School student arrested but not charged after a gun fired inside of a classroom last Thursday is blasting school officials for failing to adhere to school district policies to protect students from criminalization.

A 14-year-old freshman is facing eight felony charges for bringing a loaded gun to class that discharged, sending Balboa and three other nearby schools into lockdown.

The student was arrested off campus after turning himself in, but not before three other students were taken into custody on campus and investigated for possibly assisting him after the fact.

All three were released the same day, apparently without charges.

But the father of one of those students, a minor who is a senior at the school, said that despite being physically present on campus during the lockdown and in contact with the school’s principal throughout, he was not notified by administrators that his son was in police custody.

Current San Francisco Unified School District policy governing the questioning and apprehension of students by law enforcement permits officers to interview students on campus as long as “a warrant, court order, parent/guardian consent, or exigent circumstances exist.”

The policy requires the school’s principal or designee to ensure that the process gives the student “appropriate privacy” and “respects the interests of students, parents and the school community.” It also requires the school to immediately contact the student’s parents or guardian, and give them “reasonable opportunity to come to the school and be present for any police interview.”

Roberto Pena, a SFUSD employee of two decades, said that despite being summoned to the school by Principal Freedom Siyam shortly after the school went into lock down, he was not immediately told that his son was among the students who had been detained.

“The principle reached out to me at 11:56 a.m. texting, ‘I need you,’” said Pena, who showed The Examiner text messages saved on his phone.

In an ensuing conversation, Siyam, who did not return requests for comment by press time, assured Pena that his son was safe.

“I need you to call me,” read one message from Siyam to Pena, followed by another: “He’s with me hes OK.”

Subsequent calls to Siyam’s phone went unanswered. After arriving on campus and having been assured that his son was safe, Pena, has a history in violence prevention work, immediately began securing the back of the school’s campus.

Meanwhile, police had reviewed surveillance video that allegedly showed the suspect enter a restroom, where crossed paths with Pena’s son, according to Pena.

“The only thing I’ve been told is that my son interacted with the kid in the bathroom along with [several] kids, that’s why they did that to him,” said Pena, who said his son was detained around 12:15 p.m. and remained in police custody at the school for some 45 minutes. SFPD did not return calls seeking comment before press time.

The lockdown was lifted nearly an hour later, after the detained students — including Pena’s son — were escorted out of the school’s front entrance in handcuffs.

Youth violence prevention workers said that the school disregarded district policies put into place to protect the privacy and rights of minors — including a contract with the San Francisco Police Department that dictates that on campus arrests be made in a “private location out of sight and sound of other students, to the extent practicable and absent exigent circumstances.”

“That student was quickly criminalized and – in one day – went from having the reputation of a proud football player to ‘the kid with a gun,’” reads a statement issued by the Mission Peace Collaborative about the incident.

Pena said that his son and the two others detained by police do not face any charges in connection to the incident.

“The issue is you have an administrator who knew the father, knew the kids at the school…and chose to criminalize the kid,” said Tracy Brown, co-chair of the collaborative. “Because the father was on site, and was called as a district employee and not a parent, we feel this principle failed to allow the parent to keep his own child safe.”

According to SFUSD spokesperson Laura Dudnick, “SFPD determines when there are exigent circumstances.” She said that in emergencies, such as when a person with a firearm is believed to be on campus, SFUSD “defers to the expertise of SFPD.”

“District personnel can not legally interfere or obstruct police activity when the police are attempting to address a threat of imminent harm to students and others,” she said via email.

She added that police led the response at Balboa, and that the school administration “contacted the families as soon as they were able after the threat had been addressed by SFPD.”

Pena said that he found out that his son had been transported to a nearby police station through colleagues, and that he was shocked when a video showed his son being escorted out of the front of the school.

Pena again texted Siyam, demanding that his son not be interviewed until he was present.

“Why does he need to be paraded in front of the school like a criminal? He had nothing to do with the [gun],” he said.

Police handling of the detained students was also questioned by Police Commissioner Petra Dejesus on Wednesday, who said she got “a lot of calls” about the incident.

“I thought we were treating juveniles somewhat differently and there are people concerned about exposing these young juveniles as the perpetrators and some of them are not,” said Dejesus, addressing SFPD Chief William Scott at a commission hearing. “I don’t know if we followed the juvenile procedure.”

Scott assured her that police had followed proper procedure.

For Pena, the grievance lies with his employer of nearly two decades.

“On top of the policy not being followed and implemented and people not notifying me in a timely manner, I think one of the most hurtful things has been having my bosses call and mislead me and tell me there is no such policy, that it’s only a courtesy phone call that SFUSD has to make,” he alleged.

This story has been updated from its original version.

lwaxmann@sfexaminer.com

Laura Waxmann
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