East Palo Alto schools vandalized

January 23, 2008 3:42:04 PM PST
East Palo Alto investigators are trying to determine whether students were behind the weekend vandalism of two schools.

Cesar Chavez and Edison-McNair Academy were both damaged. Edison McNair plans to use this as teaching opportunity. Teachers are talking to students this morning about what happened and why they had to miss a day of school yesterday.

Six laptops were stolen, 32 broken windows are already replaced, and much of the graffiti had been cleaned. The school decided not to show the vandalism because they want to focus on education, rather than the gang-related scrawl.

"I walked into the courtyard and saw all the windows busted and I opened my door. It was just worse than I could have imagined," says Jessica Church, Edison McNair Academy teacher.

School staff at Edison McNair Academy took pictures of the damage including overturned desks and chairs , shattered glass, and smashed TV and computer monitors. Damage was so bad that school was cancelled Tuesday to make repairs. Students returning today were full of questions.

"There's definitely a buzz this morning. I mean, people are scared. Who did it? Who knows?" says Church.

McNair Academy is one of two East Palo Alto schools trashed over the weekend. Cesar Chavez elementary is the other. It's unclear whether there is a connection between the two, which caused more than $40,000 dollars in damage.

"It was a mess. I felt like I was in the aftermath of a tornado or hurricane. Not to belittle anyone who's been through that, but it was just sort of senseless damage that was surrounding us," says Ramon Honea, Edison McNair Academy Principal.

Principal Ramon Honea says the school was going to show students one of the damaged classrooms as a 'teachable moment'. However, too much of the graffiti was gang-related and they didn't want to possibly start more tension.

East Palo Alto police say they are still not sure whether there is a gang connection.

"It could be kids wanting to claim that they are that particular gang or that click or that set, or they could be the real thing. We don't know that until we actually talk to these people," says East Palo Alto Officer David Carson.

Police do have some leads, including one arrest of a 15-year-old boy. He is a former student at Cesar Chavez School. Police found a polaroid photo of him left behind at the school. It's not clear whether the picture was taken during the crime. The teen suspect has been released to his parents while the investigation continues. Detectives have also developed a list of students they plan on speaking with about the weekend crimes.