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Students arrested in attack on classmate

PETALUMA HIGH » Two girls, both 15, accused in school courtyard incident


Two female students at Petaluma High School teamed up to attack another female student on campus Thursday morning before staff detained the two assailants and officers arrested them, police said.

Authorities have accused the two suspects, both 15-year-olds, of plotting the attack, which occurred in the school courtyard during a morning break just after 10:30 a.m.

“There apparently was a previous incident between these students,” said Petaluma police Sgt. Paul Gilman.

Police officials have not released other details, such as the age of the victim or what may have triggered the altercation.

It was the latest case of campus violence in Sonoma County following the March 1 stabbing death of a student at Montgomery High School in Santa Rosa.

Two weeks earlier, on Feb. 17, two masked assailants who turned out to be students at Casa Grande High School entered a classroom on campus intent on harming a third student, but they were chased off before causing any serious injuries.

The cases have led to heightened awareness for police, according to Gilman, as well as greater concern among school staff, parents and students.

Gilman said there are “no known connections” between the Petaluma High incident and those at Casa Grande and Montgomery high schools.

But he also said police are concerned that Thursday’s fight at Petaluma High School could have been inspired by the other incidents — and that authorities are doing all they can to prevent copycat violence.

Both suspects were booked into the county’s juvenile hall on alleged offenses including conspiracy and battery with serious bodily injury. One of the girls also faces potential charges of false imprisonment, unauthorized entry on school grounds and resisting a peace officer.

The three girls are Petaluma High School students, according to Petaluma City Schools Superintendent Matthew Harris.

Gilman said he couldn’t speak to the nature of the victim’s injuries.

“The campus is safe, all students are back in class, and the students involved do not need immediate medical attention,” Petaluma High Principal Giovanni Napoli wrote in a Thursday message to parents.

The attackers, he said, “will be held responsible for their actions.”

“We realize that these incidents can be stressful and can be triggering for students, families and staff,” he added.

Speaking by phone on Friday, Harris noted what a difficult and tragic week it’s been for North Bay school communities.

“I’m deeply concerned about our students, about our own (Petaluma district) students,” he said.

“We have some serious mental health problems in our schools. And I wouldn’t say just in our schools; it’s in our community. We’re talking about years of trauma in our community, particularly in Sonoma County, starting with the 2017 wildfires.”

He shared in advance with the Argus-Courier a long, impassioned message he sent Friday evening to staff and school families.

“Our own PCS schools experienced several altercations in this past week, and one troubling result of these recent events is that some students and staff have expressed they don’t feel safe in the classroom.”

Challenges facing students today include increased computer or cell phone screen time, cyberbullying, more young people dealing with anxiety and depression, and chronic absenteeism, he wrote.

Meanwhile, educators are leaving classrooms “at alarming rates.”

“I am the first to admit that I do not have all the answers,” Harris said in his message.

“However, by looking at the data and working as a collective team, I know we can effect positive change for students and staff. It is easy for us to blame the students when these things happen, but our first step is to recognize that our students aren’t broken; they are in crisis.”

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