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Zero tolerance for threatening schools is focus of SB 796
Senator Marie Alvarado-Gil
State Senator Marie Alvarado-Gil

In the most powerful, advanced country in the world, how is it that many parents – including myself – still have this lingering question in the back of our minds: “Will my child be safe at school today?” 

Threats made towards schools, whether through words or writing, have been on the rise nationally in recent years. The FBI recorded a whopping 60% increase in the number of school threats across the U.S. in 2022. Over the past year, there were at least nine school threats made across Senate District 4 in over half the counties I represent, including Stanislaus, Merced, Amador, El Dorado, Inyo and Madera counties. 

An alarming incident unfolded in November when Jason Vassar, a Belleview Elementary school board trustee in Tuolumne County, now under ongoing litigation for a quo warranto removal – was found with a chilling 90-plus page manifesto detailing himself as “an executioner.” His manifesto was split into three parts; one particularly disturbing statement read, “I was kind of shocked to read in Revelations that I was going to be the executioner for God and kill your children.” It is appalling to me that any individual with such thoughts would serve in public office, let alone step foot on school campus. In several incidents across my district, there were no criminal charges filed against the person making threats. 

While we are beyond fortunate Vassar had not acted on his demented urge, as the matter stands now, there is no criminal case against him; the Tuolumne County District Attorney’s Office states there is no crime with which to charge him. 

This isn’t just a Senate District 4 issue – it spans across the state. In the city of Davis in Yolo County, the issue of school threats has created a high level of fear and anxiety among some teachers, students, and parents. One teacher I spoke with who preferred to remain anonymous for safety reasons told me there have been at least half a dozen threats made near or at North Davis Elementary since fall; she has been teaching there for the past four years. She specifically recalled an incident during the first few weeks of the school year, where a bomb threat sent the school into a lockdown. 

“For 70 minutes, we were trying to calm and reassure 180 kids inside the multi-purpose room,” the teacher recounted. 

She added that these incidents not only create feelings of anger, apprehension, fear, and panic, but they promote an unhealthy learning environment for students and teachers.

“Our goal as teachers is to keep our kids safe both mentally and physically. If students aren’t feeling safe, how can we expect them to excel?” the teacher said. 

This very incident still haunts another North Davis Elementary mother. She has also requested to remain anonymous, fearing for the safety of her family. 

“I could hear the sirens go off, and I didn’t know where my six-year-old son was. I thought, is there an active shooter? Do I go get my son? Do I wait outside the school, or should I wait for administrators to call me?” the mother told me.

She later learned that her son was huddled underneath his desk for over an hour – an experience that left him traumatized. His mother says he recently began going to therapy for his anxiety.

“He went from loving school to now, not wanting to go to school sometimes,” the mother added.

There was no arrest made in this particular incident. An act of terror without consequences is just unacceptable. 

My Senate Bill 796 would make it a serious crime for anyone to make a threat towards a school or a place of worship, whether or not there is intent to carry out the threat. The incident involving Vassar is a prime example for why we need to implement stricter laws to hold individuals with nefarious intentions accountable; we cannot afford to wait for a tragedy to occur before deciding it is the right time to address safety in schools and places of worship. In December, I met with Tuolumne County’s Superintendent of Schools, Zack Abernathy, to discuss the incident involving Vassar. Our thoughtful conversation on school safety has led to both our teams working collectively to organize a town hall in Tuolumne County in the coming months to hear from constituents, law enforcement, and faith-based organizations. By engaging with the greater community, we can share valuable information that can shape the implementation of appropriate measures to ensure the highest level of safety across our community.

We must address this issue before it is too late. SB 796 will create the legal framework law enforcement needs to prosecute those who make threats to the fullest extent of the law. By holding these individuals accountable, SB 796 can also act as a deterrent to reduce the occurrence of threats, creating a safer environment for our children to learn, and our families to worship without fear of harm.  

Marie Alvarado-Gil is a Democrat who represents Ceres in the California State Senate’s 4th District.