Controversy over freshmen parents’ reaction

Jessica Lee and Cameron Morelli

Two freshmen found themselves the subject of controversy and featured on a local news program and the front page of the local newspaper in the span of two weeks in September.

However, it was the reactions by the students’ parents that drew the most attention — and for one, a possible jail sentence.

In a Fox 40 news broadcast that aired on Sept. 11, Bear Creek freshman Arika (whose last name is being withheld) described an incident in which she was caught on video while “hooking up” with a boy she had a crush on.

Although Arika agreed to meet with the boy in a private area on campus, she claimed in the news broadcast that she was not aware of the other boys’ presence at the location and did not consent to being videotaped during this private moment.

“People had their phones out and they were taking pictures and videos,” Arika told Fox 40. “At that moment, I just wanted to, like, crawl into a ball and cry.”

Arika’s mother Shannon Richards, who was notified of the incident over two hours after it occurred, was upset that the police officer involved with the incident, Officer Erika Gonzalez, had not yet spoken with the boy, Ethan, when Richards was notified.

“This was unacceptable,” Richards said. “How can Gonzalez say [Ethan] coaxed my child out to a field, premeditated these actions on my daughter and they still don’t have him in custody?”

Richards believes that the boy’s five-day suspension is not a severe enough punishment for the magnitude of his actions.

“Mr. Atterberry said he could only give the boy and my daughter a five day suspension,” Richards said. “I’ve done my research and besides expulsion, there are several laws broken by the kids that did this malicious act to her.  They exploited her, taunted her and bullied her.”

Richards, whose husband is the head of a biker club, allegedly arranged a picketing outside of Bear Creek in which about 15 parents protested against bullying and the insufficient punishment of the boy involved in this incident.

Although this picketing did not evoke a response from Bear Creek administration, Richards has not given up on standing up for Bear Creek students.

“I am a strong-willed woman and nothing will stop me from protecting my daughter and the others that attend Bear Creek,” Richards said. “The kids need to be protected and I will make sure they are.”

Principal Bill Atterberry said he couldn’t directly address this issue, but did say that administration always has all students’ safety and fairness in mind when determining punishment.

“Nothing is cut and dry,”  Atterberry said.  “Administrators have to use their judgement; ed-code and board policy is there to provide guidelines.”

Eight days after this incident, on Sept. 19, 1,270 of the 1,996 students at Bear Creek didn’t attend school — all because of one parent phone call.

Prior to that day, parent Orlando Johnson called the counseling office to, as he claims in an interview with The Record, get to the bottom of why his 14-year-old son missed at least 30 days of school and, according to Yvette Grosse, the mother of the son, address the bullying his son was facing.

“The only thing I wanted to do was clarify the fact why my kid wasn’t in school,” said Orlando Johnson, in an interview with The Record.

Having mentioned the word Columbine in one of his statements, school officials followed protocol and immediately notified the Stockton Police Department, as well as parents, about the potential threat.

“This afternoon, we received a call from an upset parent who said that he was ‘coming down tomorrow and it’s going to be like a Columbine situation,’” Principal Bill Atterberry said in the school-wide email and phone call to parents.

Johnson, learning that he was wanted by the police through co-workers at Labor Ready, notified the police of his whereabouts and was arrested that Friday morning at his workplace in Elk Grove.

With two felony convictions and one misdemeanor, two of which resulted in 11 years of prison time on weapon possession charges, Johnson was denied release on his own recognizance — a legal promise, such as appearance in court, that must be kept in order to avoid punishment.  Johnson was charged with violating Section 422 and Section 71, having “willfully threaten[ed] to commit a crime which will result in death or great bodily injury to another person” and having threatened a public officer.  Judge Tom Harrington ordered Johnson to remain in custody, with a $150,000 bail.

At the preliminary hearing on Oct. 6, Harrington ruled that there was probable cause to believe that Johnson had committed his crimes, and Johnson was proclaimed to having committed a felony.  The bail and the charges remained the same.

Johnson, in the interview with The Record, claims that the Bear Creek staff member he spoke with, Counselor Ren Pham-Peck, misheard what he said.  He also said that he had intended to convey his frustration because his son’s mother had been trying to contact the school for more than a month and had received no response.

“My exact words were, ‘Would you want the school to be like a Columbine, [and] I get a phone call that my kid is dead?’” Johnson said, in the interview with The Record.

Grosse, in her interview with The Record, said that her son wasn’t attending school because he was afraid of being bullied and, therefore, she and Johnson were trying to contact the school to arrange independent study.  She said she had been calling the school for 30 to 35 days and had not gotten any response, leading Johnson to make that phone call.

“I’m calling all these people, and it’s just like I’m invisible,” Grosse said, in the interview with the Record.  “I have no voice whatsoever, like my child does not matter. You’re basically just telling me that my child is a nobody. That’s just basically how I felt.”

Grosse believes Johnson shouldn’t be in jail right now and said that he is not the man he was 15 years ago, declaring that Johnson, a community activist in Oakland, is a hardworking father and grandfather.

“There’s no way he should be locked up right now,” Grosse said, when interviewed by The Record.  “It wasn’t supposed to be that way. We just needed a little help.”

Grosse said that her son is distressed by the situation and feels at fault for his father’s imprisonment.  She said she has decided to send him to live with his grandmother in Alameda and that he will attend school there.

Addressing Grosse’s comments regarding contacting the school, Principal Bill Atterberry said that school officials keeps accurate records and always contact parents back as soon as possible.

“We get directly back to parents,” Atterberry said.  “My expectations is that we get back to parents within twenty-four hours. If we can’t, we explain why that is.”

Atterberry also said that the appropriate action was taken in response to the potential threat.

“I’m not going to get in a tit for tat with a parent,” Atterberry said.  “All I can do is respond to what people in the office heard him say and asked him to repeat what he said.  I have to trust in the expertise and the experience of my staff as that’s what they heard and they’re very accustomed to talking to parents and listening, especially counselors.”

Pham-Peck said that there was no miscommunication.

“He said it twice like I told the police, and it’s not up to me whether it’s a credible threat,” Pham-Peck said.  “I report to the police and the police handle the matter.”

Even with the $43,522.90 loss in Average Daily Attendance money from all the absences, Atterberry still believes he made the right call.

“That does have a dramatic impact bottom line,” Atterberry said.  “That’s the reason the district has reserves kinda absorbed and things like that. [The loss] is not good but safety is more important than money, and everybody acknowledges that.”

Johnson returned to court Oct. 17.  Harrington decided to continue the court case and take it to trial.  Johnson will return to court Nov. 27 for arraignment — a legal reading of the defendant’s charges.