When suspicious becomes serious

Drone photo #1

                                                                                                                                                                    Special to the Gazette/Zachary Weidkamp

Published: Granite Bay Gazette Vol. 19, Issue 1. Friday, Sep. 18, 2015.

Category: Writing

Reason for publication: When the information leaked that a former Granite Bay High graduate had been arrested on charges as serious as intention to sexually assault minors and distribution of obscene materials to minors, I knew the Gazette had a responsibility to publish a story. I decided to write a constructive piece out of a scary situation – instead of placing the spotlight on the graduate, I decided to focus on the responsibility of reporting concerning behaviors. 


 

   A former Granite Bay High School student was arrested on August 14, 2015 on multiple counts, including possession of an illegal weapon, making criminal threats, distribution of obscene materials to minors and a third party report of  intent to sexually assault minors. The 18-year-old male has since been let go, however the District Attorney has filed for further investigation.

  GBHS Integrated Mathematics 2 and Advanced Placement Statistics teacher Bruce Honberger coached the student, a varsity volleyball player, during his sophomore year and said he struggled to form relationships.

  “He’s kind of a troubled kid,” Honberger said. “There definitely were situations where he had trouble getting along with me, his peers and certainly his teachers.”

   Fox 40 reported that the student had recently been admitted to a mental hospital following his arrest after expressing thoughts about self-harm. Previously, classmates had also commented on their concerns regarding the student’s abnormal actions on Facebook and Twitter.

  For many students, distinguishing between adolescent eccentricities and serious threats can be difficult.

  “Strange behavior, erratic behavior and unusual behavior … are all symptoms of mental illness, or drug abuse or use,” said AP Psychology and Peer Counseling teacher Natalie Elkin, who is also a licensed marriage and family therapist. “That kind of bleeds into the realm of mental health professionals, so it certainly isn’t an expectation (that) teachers know what’s going on and can identify it as psychotic or drug-induced. Certainly … a teacher would notice (the behavior), find it suspicious and then make sure that they’ve contacted someone – an assistant principal, someone in the administration, the nurse or … a counselor.”

  All teachers in California are mandated reporters and required to follow a certain protocol to report sexual or physical abuse, elder abuse or harm to self or others. Teachers must go through a training process, and face misdemeanor charges if they have knowledge of any of the listed crimes or abuses and fail to report.

  However, students often either do not feel comfortable reporting another student’s behavior – even when seemingly suspicious or dangerous – or do not know who to talk to.

  “Unfortunately, I think we have a lot of staff that wouldn’t necessarily take (some) things as seriously as others,” junior Julia Huss said. “But we do have trusted teachers. No matter who it is, if it’s a teacher you trust, you should talk to them.”

  Similarly, GBHS senior Mason Gregory said he also feels that some teachers may not care about students as much as others do. Gregory said he only feels comfortable talking to a handful of teachers, including Advanced Placement U.S. History and International Baccalaureate History of the Americas Brandon Dell’Orto, who is “someone I know I could always go to.”

  Huss’ and Gregory’s hesitation to talk to certain staff members they do not know or feel uncomfortable talking to may not be a bad thing, according to both assistant principal Sybil Healy and Greg Hopping, GBHS’s school Resource Officer and Placer County Deputy Sheriff.

  “We all feel comfortable in our groups and with certain individuals,” Hopping said. “Our staff as a whole … all has different personalities, so students connect up with certain individuals and certain personality types. That’s who we’re going to feel comfortable going to. (But) it’s on that student to find a teacher or staff member that they are comfortable with, that they do relate to and speak to, (so as not to) use that as an excuse for not reporting. Find somebody you can confide in so (you) don’t use that as a crutch.”

  According to Healy, all of the assistant principals and counselors are available to talk to, as well as, the GBHS school nurse, the new school intervention counselor and Hopping. Hopping also said he suggests a good idea would be for a student to talk to their parents, because he thinks parents usually delve deeper into an issue.

  Despite having someone to talk to, students – and people in general – do not always report behaviors or situations because of psychological behaviors deemed common amongst human kind.

  “If there’s something going on that’s odd … (we ask) ‘what do I do about it?’ or ‘what’s the right thing to do?’” Elkin said. “In a situation that is possibly a crisis but is ambiguous, and (has) an authority figure – (which) could be a friend, or whoever is the most dominant in the social group – we are more likely to conform … We would like to think if there’s a potential crisis we would trust our own judgment, (but) no, it’s the opposite. We do not trust our own judgment; we look to everybody else to figure out (how to respond). But they’re doing the same thing, so no one does anything.”

 Doctor Stephen E. Brock, Nationally Certified School Psychologist, Licensed Educational Psychologist and California State University, Sacramento expert of school-based intervention, school crisis response, school psychology, crisis theory and Intervention and postvention functional behavior assessment said the fear of standing out from a crowd or being labeled a “snitch” often prevents students from speaking out. However, students – for their classmates’ well-beings as well as their own – should know which situations require speaking out.

  “We strive to establish a norm wherein under certain circumstances (i.e., whenever there is concern regarding the physical safety of others) it is admirable when (students) overcome the ‘conspiracy of silence’ and tell an adult about the concerning behavior of a peer,” Brock said. “We also strive to help youth recognize the difference between tattling on a classmate who has broken some minor rule, and doing what is necessary to keep others physically safe.”

  Another important idea to acknowledge is the fact that crimes of all kinds can happen anywhere. Factors such as a community being closer or more isolated from each other, richer or poorer, more or less educated do not prohibit a certain crime from occurring.

  Huss said she believes people have a misconceptions that crimes of this nature don’t happen in Granite Bay, which she thinks will be proved false after the this case. This recent arrest will make people take a step back and realize that assumption is wrong, Huss said.

  Additionally, Hopping said he is responsible for investigating school-related situations and digging deeper into situations – which may involve visits to students’ houses, and conducting threat assessments. According to Hopping, if a student sees something suspicious on social media they should report it immediately and document the evidence; all potentially dangerous situations should be taken seriously.

  “Once the act … or event has occurred, we can’t take it back,” Hopping said. “‘Should’ve, could’ve’ doesn’t work. We need that information so we can prevent a situation. But just because we investigate doesn’t mean that individual is going to be charged with a crime. It could be as simple as just counseling, so it’s not always the end of the world for a student if some of these strange activities are reported. Sometimes it’s a blessing for them, because they (could be) reaching out for help.”

  Above all, the most important emphasis is on encouraging students to report if they believe it is necessary, or they believe they, another student, or their peers are in danger. Furthermore, if a student’s behavior seems off, unusually strange or abnormally erratic, a report may also be necessary.

     “Even if you’re unsure, if you hear something that is concerning, know that not everyone is joking around and some people could genuinely mean what they’re saying even if it comes off as a joke,” Huss said. “So if you hear something that makes you uncomfortable, or makes others uncomfortable, don’t be afraid to report it. Even if it ends up to being a joke, just knowing that you did something to help someone else is a good thing.”

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