A panel of experts gave parents homework on how to look out for problems involving drug use, human trafficking, violence and gangs at a special meeting held May 3 at Argus High School's multipurpose room.
The meeting was called in response to several incidences involving Ceres students, including:
• A student from Endeavor High School being stabbed during a March fight with a Ceres High School student;
• Seven Central Valley High School students being arrested in January for bullying and assaulting another student;
• A Stockton man being arrested by Turlock Police in January and charged with the human trafficking of a Ceres High student;
• One adult male and two minors arrested in Ceres in February on suspicion of sex trafficking. The 16-year-old girl suspected of prostitution was detained, interviewed and released to family.
News of those cases prompted officials at Ceres Unified School District (CUSD) to schedule a series of parent meetings on student safety.
"Any time we can involve our parents, it's a good thing," said CUSD Superintendent Scott Siegel.
"We want to do all we can toward prevention, including reaching out to parents and the community so they know what the trouble signs are and what services are available should their students need help," Siegel said.
A panel of experts provided information on prevention, signs of trouble and available services, both in and out of school.
"The last two years, we've seen a small increase in the number of kids being expelled for furnishing edible marijuana products," noted Siegel. "It's not like we're experiencing an epidemic. But it's enough of an increase we want to get ahead of the problem before it becomes bigger."
Likewise, Ceres has seen "a handful of young men and ladies involved in prostitution," said Siegel. "I can't give you specific examples. It's been happening. It concerns us."
He also said the "nature of gangs is changing in this area. It's done a little more underground. But it doesn't mean it's not there. We want parents to be aware these things are happening."
Ceres Police Department Sgt. Jose Berber, CUSD director of Child Welfare and Attendance Jose Beltran, Ceres Unified, CUSD coordinator of Student Support Services Brian Murphy, and Debra Johnson, director of Without Permission, a non-profit organization combatting human trafficking, made up last week's panel.
In 2012, Johnson founded Without Permission (WP) which has served over 250 victims of sex trafficking.
"We take any opportunity to reach out to parents," Johnson said. "We've been in and outside of the classroom. That's the frontline for us. We're losing a generation. If we educate and unify, we can push the traffickers out of Stanislaus County."
CUSD will implement a new comprehensive program for suicide prevention for students in grades 7-12 beginning next school year.
"We've done a lot of work in areas of intervention and prevention," Murphy said. "We're always looking at expanding and seeing what we can do to get better."
Due to anticipated interest, an allotted amount of free tickets were made available at schools the week leading up to the meeting. The Argus multipurpose room can hold up to 200 people.
Imelda Castellanos and nine other members of the Central Valley High School Parents For A Better Future Club were in attendance.
Four of Castellanos' children currently attend CUSD schools.
"They talked about very important topics," Castellanos said. "The parents that are here have an obligation to go out in the community and spread the word. There are so many influences out there. It's crucial that parents get involved and don't fear talking to their children."
"Every day, parents entrust us with the safety and education of their children," Siegel said. "It is a responsibility we take very seriously."
"We'll do this again," Siegel added.