Sheriff’s Office Investigating Trespassing Incident at Canalino Elementary in Carpinteria
Parents and Community Members Question District’s Response; District Officials Say Safety Protocols Were Followed
On Thursday, April 13, two adult men trespassed on the campus of Canalino Elementary School in the Carpinteria Unified School District (CUSD). The incident is currently under investigation by the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office.
In the aftermath of the incident, some parents and community members are questioning school safety protocols and the district’s response. However, district leadership says that all safety protocols were followed, and that students were not in danger at any time.
Canalino Elementary principal Jamie Persoon gave a secondhand account of what happened in an interview with the Independent. At the time of the incident, she was dealing with an ongoing plumbing issue in a separate kindergarten building on campus.
That Thursday afternoon, two adult men were captured on security camera video walking behind the district’s office toward Canalino Elementary, and at one point were seen approaching the Carpinteria Family School garden. The two schools share a campus that is right next door to the district’s office on Linden Avenue.
According to Persoon, two district employees, including Monica Thomas, the executive assistant to the superintendent, saw the two men through the window of the district office and immediately confronted them.
In accordance with school protocol, Persoon said, Thomas asked the two men to identify themselves and state what they were doing at the school.
One of the men claimed to be a parent of a 3rd-grader at Canalino and said that they were there to visit. They gave Thomas a name, which was later found to not match that of any student at the school.
Thomas then began escorting them to the Canalino office, where visitors are expected to check in. However, when the men spotted the emergency exit through the school’s bus loop gate, they ran.
The two men exited through the gate and toward a neighborhood across the street. Thomas ran after them to see which direction they went, and then returned to the district office to call 9-1-1.
Persoon said county sheriff’s deputies arrived 10 minutes later at 1:15 p.m. and did a sweep of surrounding neighborhoods but did not locate the trespassers. She said she and Superintendent Diana Rigby walked the “whole length of campus” to check the property’s 12 gates, none of which were broken or compromised in any way.
She said the men had no visible weapons and were most likely on campus for about 10 to 15 minutes, as the security camera footage first showed the men walking behind the district office at 12:43 p.m.
Persoon first notified parents of the situation on ParentSquare (a school and parent communication app) at 2:22 p.m. on the day of the incident. She provided an update at 4:17 p.m., saying that it was “likely” the trespassers had come from the Pacific Village neighborhood behind the school, following a report from a Canalino parent. The parent told Persoon that the gate to his backyard, which has a wall adjacent to the district office, “was damaged and broken.”
“[The parent] believes that the pair were attempting a robbery … and saw his large, intimidating dog who likely barked at them,” Persoon wrote on ParentSquare.
“We don’t know this for sure,” she told the Indy, “but we think that they jumped over that wall to get away from the dog and then landed on the district office property. And then, when you get there, you can’t get out. So we think they were trying to figure out how to get away from the campus, not necessarily to be on the campus.”
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Some parents and CUSD union members have criticized the district and Canalino for not initiating a “Hold and Secure” or lockdown protocol, or calling 9-1-1 sooner. They’ve also said that the district and Canalino’s response, in terms of communicating with parents, has been inadequate.
“It is very scary to think that they were able to access the school,” wrote one parent on ParentSquare. Another parent suggested there should be a staff member posted at each gate when the school gates are open.
“Immediately upon seeing two men in a place they shouldn’t be, call 9-1-1,” said Ingrid Bostrom, a freelance photographer for the Independent, whose son attends Canalino Elementary. “To me, that’s a no-brainer. You call 9-1-1 and make sure you have reinforcements. You take the most precautionary measures possible when we’re dealing with schools and kids, especially these days.”
CUSD’s employee union is using the situation to call for improved safety conditions at the district’s schools.
Jay Hotchner, a parent of a Canalino student and the president of the CUSD employee union, said there was an “absence of a transparent and consistent administrative response” to the incident, and that Canalino parents have begun working directly with employee union leadership to pursue specific safety improvements. “The employee union in CUSD has promoted safety improvements across the district for several years,” he said.
Hotchner said many parents “seem determined” to better understand the events on April 13, to “determine what protocols, practices, and resources are needed to improve safety for students and employees the next time.” He said that the issue is likely to be discussed at the next school board meeting on Tuesday, April 25.
Persoon said that the district staff correctly followed emergency protocol and that she informed parents of the incident “as soon as [she] had all the information.”
“Lockdowns are used to protect the safety of individuals during a threat of violence,” Persoon said, “and that was not the case here.”
Superintendent Rigby reiterated that all staff are trained on “Hour Zero” safety protocols, and that “at no time were the trespassers unaccompanied when they were walking across the Canalino campus.”
“You can understand how everyone is upset and concerned,” Rigby said. “You can understand that, given the context of where we are today. We’re all concerned. But what I’m really proud about is that our office staff did exactly what needed to be done and intervened.”
Persoon said she held staff meetings on the following day, Friday, April 14, to “give people a forum to express their questions, concerns, what went well, and what we can do next time.” She said that, in response to staff concerns, they will be changing the number of gates open in the mornings from five gates down to two.
In addition, the district will be investing in more surveillance cameras at CUSD elementary schools, as well as equipping all 12 gates with emergency push bars so they are able to evacuate all 600 students and 90 staff members quickly in the event of an emergency.
Persoon said they’ve used the conversation around the April 13 events to remind teachers of safety measures such as locking their doors.
“We were just talking about how we can utilize this incident to tighten up our systems, you know, analyze different ways of doing things,” Persoon said. “It kind of reminds us of all of the things that we do when we talk about school safety. And it was a good opportunity for us to reevaluate our systems, from my perspective.”
Raquel Zick, spokesperson for the Sheriff’s Office, said that deputies have been looking into the incident since the initial response and encourages anyone with information to contact the Carpinteria Station at (805) 568-3399, or their non-emergency dispatch line at (805) 683-2724.