Exploring the past incidents of violence at AHS as well as current efforts to prevent it
On the morning of February 22, a James Logan High School student was stabbed on campus by another student, initiating police investigation and a lockdown. In the aftermath of the incident, the question arises: in the unfortunate scenario that something like the James Logan incident were to ever happen at American High School, how would the school handle it? In addition, how safe is American as a school? These questions can feel uneasy to face, but in the light of this incident and similar ones across the nation, students find themselves increasingly wondering about such issues.
Historically speaking, although American has not experienced specific incidents of extreme violence, the school has had a notable gang problem.
“Fremont, ten years ago, had a more pronounced reds and blues gang issue. It’s not something that’s completely gone away, but it’s something we see less of at the high school level,” said Mr. Musto. “We don’t see students showing up in colors and getting into disputes with other gang members based off gang allegiances.”
Mr. Reibenschuh adds, “The population has changed in the last ten years. When I first got here, there was a high gang problem, and this is one of the reasons why we’re probably one of the strictest schools in the district not to wear gang colors.” He describes that gangs have not disappeared from existence today, but their impact on campus has decreased. “We do have gang members at our school, but as long as they’re not bringing their gang intentions to the school, we’re okay with that, because everybody deserves to have a safe and free education. What they do off campus doesn’t and shouldn’t interfere with what they’re doing at school. Every student has the right to be here to learn, whether they are gang, whether they are religious—it doesn’t matter. Just don’t promote gang activities on campus.”
Aside from gang issues, American has had a few cases of students engaging in illegal activity on campus.
Mr. Musto describes, “The biggest issue we had was last school year, where we had the explosive device in the locker. That was certainly the scariest issue we’ve ever had, and thankfully, no one was injured, but because of students knowing what was happening, we were able to identify who was responsible.”
The incident was very memorable for many students. For Khadija Hossain (10), it made her realize the potential dangers that could occur at school. “I was eating in the 500 hallway, and I heard a really loud crack. I was confused, and I heard some screaming. There’s a lot of people who stand in Hell Hall, so I was concerned about if people got injured,” she recalls. More broadly, she explains, “I’m glad [a shooting] hasn’t happened, but at the same time, I’m scared if it will. There’s this simultaneous relief that it hasn’t happened yet, but I’m still worried, because it could happen. I don’t understand the [thought] process that the shooter is going through. ”
Perhaps this lack of understanding is what drives students who are going through hard times to feel more angry and be more likely to want to hurt others, which is possibly what happened in the instance at James Logan High School. Mr. Musto wants to change that.
“What I’d like to see is a school community where people feel comfortable sharing their concerns with others. My hope is that if anyone was ever feeling angry [enough to commit violent acts], that they would reach out to someone for help before they brought a weapon to school.”
On this note, Mr. Reibenschuh offers a possible approach. “Personally, I would like to have more counselors on campus, because students want to go to adults to talk,” he explains, “Sometimes, we can nip violence in the bud by having us speak to kids.”
For school administration, taking steps to ensure campus safety is a major responsibility, and this consists of various approaches. “The most important measure that we have is the communication that teachers have with administration and with students, and that’s where we receive most of the information about potential threats,” explained Mr. Musto. “We tell teachers, ‘If you hear something that is concerning, let somebody know, if it’s going to be a school safety issue.’ We extend that to students as well; they can tell their teachers if they’re concerned about something.”
In addition, the AHS administration works closely with the Fremont Police Department in a joint effort to prevent crime. “Our relationship with the Fremont Police Department through the School Resource Officers program is a very essential part of [ensuring campus safety],” explained Mr. Musto. “Each high school has a uniformed officer stationed on campus, and they’re responsible for being a liaison between the police department and the school administration. We often refer issues of public safety to them, as their responsibility is public safety. They are able to contact their emergency services very quickly to come help support in a situation.”
In the unlikely event of an emergency occurring at AHS, Mr. Reibenschuh describes, “We would shut the campus down, try to find the perpetrators, and we would certainly call EMT here, any type of emergency personnel to help anybody that was injured in any shape or form. The response is pretty quick. We have policies in place; we hope we would never have to do something like that, but we’re all prepared if in case we have a situation.”
In the end, it is also up to the students to remain vigilant about potential dangers and to seek swift assistance if they suspect danger looming on the horizon. For students who feel that there is a potential threat at school, Mr. Musto emphasizes the importance of reaching out. “Let an adult know. Every adult on this campus is known as a mandated reporter,” he describes. “If a teacher or staff member receives word that there’s a potential conflict, they know that they’re going to have to tell admin. We always tell teachers: Don’t hesitate to call 911 if you feel there’s an emergency happening.”
Caption: Unrecognized visitors can pose a threat to school safety. “[Campus security] check when we have visitors,” explained Mr. Musto. “If we see somebody who we’ve never seen before, not wearing a pass, [then] somebody, whether it’s an administrator or teacher, will reach out and say, ‘who are you?’ and ‘what are you doing?’”