Santa Ynez Valley Union High School | Credit: Courtesy

Nearly 4,000 people have signed an online petition calling for the firing of Peter Haws, vice principal of Santa Ynez Valley Union High School, after a student who resisted being searched for possible drug possession was restrained, sedated, and arrested on campus in January.

Superintendent Andrew Schwab said an inquiry into the incident is scheduled to be completed in “approximately 30 days.” He asked that the community “allow us the time necessary to conduct a fair and impartial investigation and to refrain from participating in speculation or accusations based on incomplete or inaccurate information.”

Law enforcement officials have said little publicly about the incident, citing privacy laws. The only statement to date from the Sheriff’s Office is as follows:

School Resource Deputy (SRD) attempted to contact a juvenile student for smoking marijuana on campus. Juvenile student was non-compliant, walked away from SRD, and entered an occupied classroom. SRD vacated the classroom for the safety of other students while additional deputies responded to the campus. Juvenile student was ultimately taken into custody with routine physical restraint and transported to an area hospital for non-trauma related care and was later released to a guardian. Deputies will be forwarding a report for this incident to Juvenile Probation. Meanwhile, a group of students outside the classroom obstructed the additional deputies from assisting the School Resource Deputy and one additional student was arrested for obstruction. No deputies were physically injured during this call.

Charges against the student arrested for obstruction have since been dropped.

Below are full statements from Schwab to the district’s Board of Education and Principal Michael Niehoff to Santa Ynez High families.

Superintendent Andrew Schwab:

I want to take this opportunity to acknowledge the January 5th incident and recognize that there are many different perspectives about issues like student discipline and law enforcement’s role on school campuses. When it comes to maintaining the safety of students and staff on our campus, we rely on staff and local law enforcement to respond appropriately and with the utmost professionalism. We are investigating complaints related to the incident and based on the outcome of the investigation, we will respond appropriately, and, within the limits of what we are able to share publicly in accordance with the law and student and personnel confidentiality requirements, we will report out the results of that investigation and our response, as soon as we are able. I would ask the community to allow us the time necessary to conduct a fair and impartial investigation and to refrain from participating in speculation or accusations based on incomplete or inaccurate information.

What I have learned from this experience is that we have more work to do in understanding the many perspectives that come from being the public comprehensive high school serving the communities in the valley. We all come together here with different lived experiences and expectations and as educators, we need to continue to provide avenues for civil discourse where we can foster mutual understanding and respect. We will continue to conduct surveys, meet with students and parents and listen to the many voices in the valley. It is my hope that we can continue to work together collaboratively to build a school culture that is centered around positive student-staff relationships, student voice and agency and student learning.

In closing, another thing that I have learned from this experience is how deeply our staff cares about each and every student and family that we serve. We know that is something we all have in common, and one of the reasons we all became educators in the first place.

Principal Michael Niehoff:

Dear SYVUHS Community,

I am writing today to check-in and share the principal’s perspective on some recent events and challenges affecting our campus that have also resulted in a variety of community discussions.

Whether you realize it or not, I do not possess the ability – both legally and ethically – to explain the details of all events or even offer my commentary on specifics related to student discipline or personnel matters. However, I have had opportunities to reflect and would like to share some thoughts with you. 

First of all, I need to always share how much I enjoy the students at our school. I have been impressed from the first day of school with their friendliness, politeness, professionalism, cooperation, respect, creativity and sense of humor. They truly make my day every day. As I have shared before, I have worked at several very successful high schools, as well as have visited dozens of other high schools across the country in the last several years. With that in mind, I have said, and will continue to say, that our students are one of the best groups of students I’ve ever met. I feel the same way about our teachers and staff. Our teachers have responded well to new tools, ideas and approaches. Neither our staff nor our students are perfect, but there is way more – a lot more – good than not. 

Again, I am aware that there are lots of unique feelings and experiences related to our school from students, alums, parents and community members. Even though I am not able to make specific comments on certain events or communications, I can share how I am trying to lead in terms of always making this high school better. 

I am a firm proponent of making all students feel safe and welcome at school every day, as well as creating a positive learning environment and culture. I have done this by being in classrooms every day, being out at lunch and break almost every day, attending games and other co-curricular events and spending quality time each and every day positively interacting with a great group of students. 

Since the summer and beginning of the school year, I have tried to model being an open door and accessible principal. I have provided my email, my cell phone and many ways for students and others to share concerns with me. Many students have come to me this year with concerns. And I also know many of them have gone to counselors, teachers or other staff members. All of these are good choices. Some of these concerns are about challenges related to other students, staff, classes, policies and more. 

I have worked hard to listen and also work to address concerns as much as possible. In some cases, we were able to get immediate improvement or even solve the problem. In other cases, we have worked to improve situations or concerns and have made some progress. In even other cases, some of these things we are still going to have to work on for sure. We may not fix it all and we may not always agree on the problem or solution, but I promise I won’t quit trying if you don’t. 

Like all schools, our school has had issues of discrimination, bullying and racism on campus. I have spent my entire career in education addressing these types of issues in positive and proactive ways. In my first year here as principal, we’ve been actively working with students and staff to promote a positive campus climate and welcoming school culture. Senior Elle Arvesen recently wrote an article for the Santa Ynez Valley News about the work we’ve been doing (LINK). 

My goal as principal is to create an environment that builds trusting and connected relationships between students, staff and parents. We have done a number of things this year in preparing students to be successful in a globally connected world, including: staff professional development around creating culturally relevant and responsive classrooms; hosting the SYV Latino Leadership Conference with over a hundred students and local community partners participating; and most recently hosting a facilitated parent event to discuss topics around race and gender and starting the school wide student led anti-bullying and anti-hate No Place for Hate program. Indeed, our student leaders for No Place For Hate have scheduled an entire week of educational activities, lessons and events for March 27th – 31st. We have also added two new student clubs this year. They are our Black Student Union and the American Indian Club. The latter is part of a new partnership with the Santa Ynez Valley Band of Chumash Indians who are also working collaboratively with us to find many ways to honor and celebrate local Chumash history on campus. 

Additionally, our Counselors, Health & Wellness Coordinator, others and I are regularly meeting with students in order to support their needs, voices and shared areas of school growth. 

But yes, the work is just beginning, and we do need to do more. 

I too have a long list of things I’d love to see changed or improved at our school. That is and should be the case. Schools, being places of learning, should always be about getting better. And all of us, including me, can always be better. With the things I’d love to see changed or improved, the only way to success is by working with people, not against them. If it turns personal, negative or confrontational, we won’t be able to actually make progress or improvements.

Many of you are well aware and have also shared with me all of the negativity, bullying, harassment and personal attacks on social media and other platforms that students or even you have sometimes experienced. This is a huge problem and not just in high schools but in our culture. This is part of the problem and never part of any solution. Those of you that have been on the receiving side of attacks or harassment on social media, text or online in any capacity know how it feels. It causes damage. It makes problems worse. It destroys friendships and relationships. It may ultimately keep us from working collaboratively to solve real problems or improve real situations. 

I appreciate you listening and helping me always trying to make our school better and doing so in positive and productive ways. Thank you.


Michael Niehoff



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