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Vista gun threat at Vista Unified School District
Parents and students expressed frustration over the school's handling of a reported gun threat. Law enforcement later determined there was no actual threat of a gun on the premises. Courtesy photo
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Vista school officials criticized for ‘poorly’ handling alleged gun threat

VISTA — Parents and students at Rancho Buena Vista High School are outraged over what they call a disorganized and ineffectual response by school and district officials to a report of a gun on campus that forced the school into a lockdown.

At approximately 7:25 a.m. on Monday, March 7, the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department received a 911 call from a parent at the high school who relayed their child had seen another student carrying a firearm on campus, according to Principal Jose Villarreal. 

The school’s administration was immediately alerted, and Sheriff’s deputies subsequently arrived and conducted a search of the campus until determining there was no credible threat to safety. 

However, some are expressing frustration that parents and students were only told of the threat an hour later, at 8:30 a.m. 

“They shouldn’t have allowed the school to start at all,” said Tammy Solari, who has two sons who attend Rancho Buena Vista.

Solari said she and other parents were also annoyed school officials sent out an email, as opposed to a robocall or text message, to announce the lockdown. 

“They knew that there was a credible threat to safety, and they decided to have kids come to school anyways,” said Elana Price, whose son Christian is a junior at RBV. “It was handled so poorly, I mean they sent all of us an email at 8:30 in the morning — an hour later— and it was an email instead of a phone call or text.”

According to Villarreal, deputies responding to the scene had informed the administration the threat did not appear to be credible, which is why the principal said he allowed the school to proceed as planned that morning despite the implementation of a precautionary “modified lockdown.” 

But the lockdown procedure itself also came under fire, as parents and students say the lockdown, which ended around 9:20 a.m., was poorly organized. Staff and teachers were confused about what was transpiring and students did not receive clear direction throughout the process. 

“It was embarrassing…nobody was taking it that seriously, the administrators weren’t serious with their communication to students,” said Makenna Andreozzi, a freshman, who criticized the school for not following proper lockdown procedures Monday. “All of the lights were on, the doors weren’t barricaded, and people were confused as to why the teachers were not taking this seriously. The principal needs to be held accountable, there needs to be more training.” 

To that end, Andreozzi has launched a petition on calling for greater transparency and accountability from the RBV administration. 

Juan Camacho is a parent of twins who both attend high school and he’s also a retired police officer who worked as a school resource officer, or SRO, in Chula Vista.

Camacho said that from a communication perspective with both staff and students, Monday’s lockdown was a “clown show” and should prompt questions about whether the school is adequately prepared for the event of a real active shooter situation. 

“Yea it was handled very poorly,” Camacho said. “I’m not saying it was every staff member’s fault, but where they were getting guidance and direction from is beyond me, organizationally the school failed and the district failed…I mean have they even done any lockdown drills this year? I’ve heard that they’ve just been doing fire drills…from an organizational standpoint in my experience the school and district failed its own staff and the students that it’s supposed to keep safe.” 

During the lockdown, Villarreal made the announcement that students should proceed to the football stadium and await further instructions while teachers should remain in classrooms.

At this point, it was not made clear to students there was a possible threat involving a firearm on campus, Solari said. Solari and Camacho both said students on the stadium grounds received virtually no assistance or instructions from staff, who were noticeably absent throughout the lockdown procedure. 

The decision to send students to the football stadium also received heavy criticism. Parents and students both argue that funneling the students into the concentrated area inside the stadium — which was apparently locked from the outside with only one viable route of egress — would have made students easy targets if there had been an active shooter in the area. 

“They shouldn’t be announcing, ‘All students go to the stadium,'” said Molly, a senior at RBV who asked that her last name not be used for this article. “I mean, if there was a gunman we would have all been sitting ducks, all targets in one place.”

Molly and Andreozzi both described a scene of absolute chaos inside the stadium as the morning unfolded and students panicked after rumors circulated that the student carrying the firearm was also on the field. Video footage taken at the scene shows masses of students climbing and jumping over the stadium fence while staff stood by helplessly and watched, according to Camacho. 

“You could see the terrified looks on kids’ faces jumping over the fence, not caring if they got cut or hurt…pushing everybody out to the football field, telling everybody to stay in place there, I just mean that makes zero sense,” Camacho said. 

“The administration sent these kids into a possible shooting situation, I mean it was ridiculous putting them on the football field, they’re sitting ducks and then they locked the kids in there,” said Solari. 

Villarreal defended his decision to direct students to the stadium but acknowledged there could have been better communication between staff and students as the situation escalated and students started jumping over the fence.  

“This was not a part of the lockdown procedure but this decision was based on information I received from the Sheriff’s Department,” Villarreal. “We didn’t believe that students being targeted on the football field would be a credible concern. I think looking back we would have coordinated it better, I don’t know, it’s something we’re learning to make sure that this doesn’t happen again.”

Monday’s incident also sparked criticism of the district for not providing the school with school resource officers that could have protected students and provided critical information during the lockdown procedure.

One of those critics has been Councilman John Franklin, who argued the situation reflects poorly on the district, which cut funding for the school’s two SROs back in 2019. 

While the district said that the dismissal of the SROs was due to budgetary cuts, Franklin said the decision was purely political, as he opined that administrators are afraid of intimidating students through maintaining a visible law enforcement presence on campus. 

“I’ve asked the board to restore the school deputies, well they claim it’s a funding issue but it’s not a funding issue, they have the money,” Franklin said. “The truth is that they don’t want SROs in there for political reasons, they don’t want students being arrested and the optics that come with that.”

In particular, Franklin criticized fellow mayoral candidate Trustee Cipriano Vargas, president of the Vista Unified School District, who voted (as part of a 3-2 majority) in 2019 to remove SROs from schools, arguing the policy results from an anti-law enforcement attitude that jeopardizes student safety. 

“[Vargas] and others have a virulent anti-law enforcement point of view that threatens the safety of our kids and of our community, and it’s worth thinking about whether we want people with those views in higher office,” Franklin said. 

Vargas is running against Franklin this year in an attempt to replace outgoing Mayor Judy Ritter. Vargas did not respond to a request for comment for this story. 

Camacho said that he and other parents see the lack of officers on campus as unacceptable from a student safety standpoint. 

“When a student sees an officer, they see a person of authority who they can get directions and guidance from,” Camacho said. “Not having an officer or deputy on the premises is detrimental to the safety of the school itself.” 

Andreozzi agreed. 

“My petition is to raise awareness that we need our SROs back on campus, we need those resources at all times…we need people on campus who can be there for something like this,” Andreozzi said. 

Villareal declined to take a stance on whether SROs should come back to RBV, instead emphasizing the need for greater communication, awareness and ability to execute procedures on the part of the existing school staff. 

“I don’t have a position,” Villareal said. “My concern is making sure that we as a school are being trained in the very complex world that we’re in now. I know I’m a reflective as a leader, I don’t take these decisions lightly, and as a dad and as a leader of this school it hurts me that students were upset — that’s not the goal ever.” 

Molly and many of her friends said they don’t feel safe coming back to the Vista school after what happened Monday. 

“It was extremely traumatic…I don’t want to go back, people are talking and saying they don’t feel safe showing up, just in going to school I don’t feel safe anymore, I’m afraid,” Molly said.