By MATTHEW MEYER | Reporter
Two vandals struck Palisades Charter High School last weekend, spray-painting homophobic slurs and vulgar drawings around the campus in a roughly two-hour spree that left thousands of dollars of damage.
The vandals, who entered the campus at around 2:30 a.m. on Saturday, Nov. 11, also gained entry to one of the school’s recently restored shop classrooms, spray-painting the walls, breaking a bookcase, spreading a wax-like substance across the room and potentially irreparably damaging the school’s prized 3D printer.
The attack ended, school officials surmise, when the suspects began to spray a fire extinguisher inside the room, triggering an alarm.
Nearly all of the damage was captured on the school’s extensive network of CCTV cameras, though the vandals wore dark clothes, full facemasks and gloves.
Principal Dr. Pam Magee told the Palisadian-Post that the school is coordinating with LAPD to identify the suspects, who may be current Pali High students.
The attack was, “relatively random; it didn’t appear to be that there was a connected message,” Magee said. “Just disruptive and disheartening.”
But the principal emphasized her dismay with the graffiti’s use of a homophobic slur.
“Kids want to come to school and feel like it’s a safe place,” she told the Post. In a note to parents and guardians notifying them of the attack, Magee called the vandalism, “extremely disruptive to our school community, which does not tolerate hate, violence and destruction.”
The principal said school administrators would help students lead the discussion about the attack’s use of hateful language.
“Our students were great,” Magee said, explaining that leaders of the school’s different student unions had organized a town hall event for Tuesday, Nov. 14, as a safe place to discuss the attack’s impact on LGBTQ students and the community at-large.
Pali High has grappled to create a welcoming, tolerant school climate amid multiple damaging incidents, including 2016 vandalism that left swastikas and racial slurs painted across the campus, and the story of Aina Adewunmi, who went public last year with accusations of racist behavior among her peers that led to suspensions and features on local evening news.
The school recently created a new full-time position, campus unification director, to organize schoolwide events that foster a better sense of inclusion through education and bonding activities.
Magee said that if the vandals were Pali High students, they were clearly “disenfranchised,” and the school needs to “create an environment where we don’t have those outliers.”
But campus culture issues will only make up part of the equation: Last weekend’s incident is sure to stoke the already controversial topic of school security.
After an earlier, relatively less damaging vandalism incident in October, Pali High’s Board of Trustees discussed but ultimately declined a more expansive, “24/7” security guard option that would cost at least $80,000.
And a recommendation from the school’s new security guard vendor to entirely fence in Pali High’s open campus sparked spirited debate about the value of complete enclosure as opposed to the mental and philosophical benefits of a fenceless campus.
At the board’s November meeting, Director of Operations Don Parcell clarified that while the school was considering new fences along portions of the campus perimeter, they were not actively exploring a fence across the entire face of the school.
But another disturbing episode may have just opened the door wider for proponents of more expansive security overhauls.
Pali High is seeking any information on last weekend’s attack, either by contacting administrators directly, or through the school’s anonymous tip line, 310-570-6111.