Another Hole in CUSD's Sandy Hook Absentee Story?

To justify financial help from the state, Capo Unified officials have tried to link excessive absences the day before winter break to fears of another school shooting. Law enforcement records don't support the scenario.

Did fears of another Sandy Hook-style shooting cause hundreds of Capistrano Unified students to stay home Dec. 21, a full seven days after the Connecticut massacre?

Or was the jump in absences spurred by the arrival of winter break on Dec. 22?

The answer could determine whether Capo Unified is entitled to $123,344 in attendance payments from the state. 

At a recent school board meeting, CUSD officials said rumors of more gunplay surfaced "on and around" Dec. 21, causing a costly one-day spurt in absences at eight schools. 

However, Orange County Sheriff's Department records obtained by Patch seem to contradict CUSD's chronology.

Lost Revenue

School districts are normally paid according to the number of students attending school each day. But if an emergency triggers a sudden drop in attendance, state law allows schools to be reimbursed.

That's precisely what happened one week after the tragedy at Sandy School in Connecticut, CUSD officials said. Facebook posts predicting another shooting spooked local students and parents, said Julie Hatchel, Capo Unified's assistant superintendent of education.

The rumors sprang up “on and around” Dec. 21, the day Capo’s six comprehensive high schools and two middle schools saw a 10 percent drop in attendance, she said.

Facebook Rumor

A CUSD spokesman told the Orange County Register that a Dana Hills High School student posted on Facebook that he didn’t want to go to school on Friday, Dec. 21, because he didn’t want to get shot.

But Sheriff’s Department records indicate any rumors and threats were discounted long before Dec. 21. The Dana Hills rumor actually surfaced Saturday, Dec. 15, the first day after Sandy Hook, records show. Two days later, on Monday, the student who posted it met with an assistant principal at Dana Hills and a deputy.

“The student did not have any information about a shooting or about anything else that was going to happen at the school,” according to Kirk Wilkerson, a spokesman for the sheriff’s support services division.

On Tuesday, Dec. 18, a sheriff's investigator again met with the student, a letter from Wilkerson states. “No evidence was found of any credible threat at the school,” he writes.

CUSD told the Register attendance fell by a third on Dec. 21 at Dana Hills. (Patch was unable to obtain attendance figures for the week.)

At the school board meeting, Clark Hampton, deputy superintendent of business and support services, told trustees the district’s application for the $123,344 reimbursement was based on the rumors.

“Between [the threats] and the rumors and the concerns that even law enforcement had because of the rumors – and then the parents in turn had concerns – that’s what’s cited as the correlation of the drop in enrollment,” Hampton explained to trustees at their last board meeting.


Trustee Jim Reardon wasn’t buying it.

“It’s a false premise kind of claim. We’re going in saying that it’s Sandy Hook, let’s take the relief. But it’s not Sandy Hook, it’s bad calendar-making,” he said.

The motion to apply for state reimbursement passed 5-2, with Reardon and Trustee Ellen Addonizio opposed.

A spokeswoman from the state Department of Education said officials there had not yet received Capo’s request.

A Capo Unified spokesman didn't return Patch’s request for comment.

Contacted Friday, Reardon said by email he stands by his comments to fellow trustees.

"Students were kept home as families got a head start on holiday travel," he said.

fact checker May 06, 2013 at 05:23 PM
"Another Hole in CUSD's Sandy Hook Absentee Story" This headline makes quite the accusation of misdeeds on the part of CUSD. And it is a definite attempt to stir controversy for what is a common practice among all school districts to seek reimbursement for exceptions to ADA rules. If the state agrees that it is an exception then much needed revenue returns to the district. If the state denies the request the that is that. It is not, under any interpretation, a misdeed to apply for an exception. As I said, it sells ads.
concerned parent May 06, 2013 at 05:25 PM
I appreciate Mr. Reardon's honesty. This is baloney, and CUSD knows it. I'm guessing that's why they're not releasing the actual attendance figures to Patch. I personally know multiple families that left for vacation early, including a couple who were flying overseas to see family. I know no families who kept their kids home a week after the tragedy because of supposed threats.
Penny Arévalo (Editor) May 06, 2013 at 05:38 PM
It is NOT common when the emergency isn't even in the state. Even CUSD's own staff report to the trustees acknowledged that by saying, while usually the governor declares a state of emergency, it is not a requirement. The OCR says only one other school district has pursued this. Two out of 1,050 school districts by definition is uncommon. And you left out the question mark in the headline, which means you all can debate what really happened. The sheriff's information does not completely jive with what the school district reported. So what really happened? Does the truth matter? Does having money on the line change things? Discuss.
fact checker May 06, 2013 at 05:50 PM
None of the exceptions are common. That's what makes them exceptions. And the uneasiness of parents was countrywide and not limited to Connecticut. The headline is indefensible as a means to summarize the story. Unless the purpose of the story is to incite, hence the question mark. Whether the exception is granted or not, the district committed no misdeed by applying for it and that is the bottom line.
fact checker May 06, 2013 at 05:54 PM
Ah, so since you personally know people who left for vacation early, the district is guilty of.........what? Applying for an exception? It is done all the time. The parents who left for vacation early, however, are guilty of keeping their kids out of school on a school day and causing financial penalties for the school district which affects the education of all. Shame on them.
concerned parent May 06, 2013 at 06:16 PM
I absolutely agree that it's inappropriate for parents to take their school out early. I have never done so, and never will. I simply stated that I know multiple families who did take their kids out early. As Penny already said, this exception is not "done all the time" when only two districts out of 1,050 applied for it. And in answer to her other question, for me, yes, the truth does matter, and I'm fed up with CUSD's constant and blatant dishonesty that has been manifest for years now. This isn't an isolated instance of hypocrisy; it's part of a pattern, and that's why it's so disturbing. Again, I find Mr. Reardon's courage to speak up honestly very refreshing.
bbq May 06, 2013 at 08:43 PM
My two high school sons heard the rumor that there might be a shooting at school on that Friday and wanted to take the day off. I denied their request. I think there was a message sent by the school about the rumor and assurance that it was just that. The kids did say that their classes were only about half full.
Penny Arévalo (Editor) May 06, 2013 at 08:47 PM
Interesting BBQ. So do you think there was actual fear? Or do you think it was like the High Holy Days, when everyone's suddenly Jewish?
Penny Arévalo (Editor) May 06, 2013 at 09:03 PM
KFI's report on this issue uploaded.
concerned parent May 06, 2013 at 09:16 PM
Aren't we still just talking about ONE high school that this rumor might have affected throughout the district?
Penny Arévalo (Editor) May 06, 2013 at 09:18 PM
Yes, the district told OCR that DHHS had a 35 percent drop in attendance. When you add up the six high schools and two middle schools, it averaged a 10 percent drop.
bbq May 06, 2013 at 09:42 PM
I can only speak for my kids, but in their case, I think they just wanted the day off :)
Katherine V. May 06, 2013 at 10:11 PM
I did not realize it was such a huge drop at mostly one school. Any time over one third of the student body doesn't show up, something's up. Early vacations would not account for such a dramatic drop at just one of the schools in the district. Clearly, rumors were flying and enough kids at that school were spooked enough to stay home, even if it was unreasonable (in hindsight). Of course if there really had been some nut job copycat out there, we wouldn't be calling their fear unreasonable. If the state funding is there to compensate schools for unexpected sudden drops in attendance, than why shouldn't CUSD apply for it? Basing funding on daily attendance is silly anyway. The school has to maintain materials and staffing based on enrollment, not daily attendance. Its not like the school can send 1/3 of the staff home because its a slow day to save money.
LeAna Bui May 06, 2013 at 10:17 PM
The fact is that DHHS had a 35% drop in attendance on this one day. Why can't they apply for the exception regardless of the cause? If they are not allowed to apply for the exception due to parents pulling kids early, then my question is "why not?" If they cannot, then this implies that CUSD is responsible for parents pulling kids out for vacation. Doesn't that lead us to schools offering up punishment to the kids in these cases? I, for one, would not be happy if schools started telling me that my child must have detention if I choose to take them to visit family a day early.
Capo mom May 06, 2013 at 11:06 PM
This reminds of substance abusers digging under the couch cushions for cash. Parents pulling their kids out for Christmas break early is not an emergency,lol. Penny, if the rumor actually surfaced on 12/15, what did DHHS staff do after their investigation to communicate that this was a non-issue?
Penny Arévalo (Editor) May 06, 2013 at 11:14 PM
I wasn't on Dana's listserv at the time. The school's front page news archive shows no special notice.
Penny Arévalo (Editor) May 06, 2013 at 11:22 PM
I've uploaded the memo I received from the Sheriff's Department. It just doesn't read like alarm bells are sounding, but maybe you all read it differently? I did ask about any related incidents for Dana Hill High the week following Sandy Hook. This is all they provided.
Cyndi Wright May 06, 2013 at 11:42 PM
What evidence does Mr. Reardon have that the 35% absentee rate on Friday, December 21 was due to parents leaving early for vacation? That number is three times the rate of the previous years. There was a threat that parents were aware of at several, if not all schools in the district that week. All parents and students were discussing it the entire week. And, parents did not take their children out on Monday or Tuesday because the threat was to coincide with the end of the Mayan Calendar which was Friday, December 21st. So, why would a trustee be upset about his district recovering ADA for a threat that every person in the district heard about? Where is his evidence that here wasn't a fear of an attack? Just because there was no arrest report, doesn't mean people weren't going to keep their children home "just to be safe."
tiny May 06, 2013 at 11:44 PM
How come the whole?: www.youtube.com/watch?v=FBpS84u2ALA
tiny May 06, 2013 at 11:45 PM
Yeparoo May 07, 2013 at 12:01 AM
SH Shooting + DH Rumors + Day Before Long Holiday + Watching Movies That Day = 35% Attendance Drop Dec 21. The robocall reminded me of the WTC attack. "People began to evacuate, but an announcement over the intercom said everything was all right, no need to evacuate." "Building One is in a state of emergency; Building Two is secure. You're fine, you can return to your work stations."
Capo mom May 07, 2013 at 12:38 AM
Cyndi, The Mayan calendar,really? You're a teacher, right? I seem to remember some of your priceless comments during CUEA's strike. How much ADA did that cost the district? If the school staff knew in advance of the threat and rumors, then upon investigation, found there was no real issue, they should have communicated this information to families. Did that happen? The rumors might possibly explain the approximately 900 absents @ DHHS. What about the 2100 absents from the other 7 campuses? Do you know or care where the money is actually coming from. Gotta love the mentality that says any opportunity to grab revenue is a good opportunity, even if you have to fabricate a story to get it.
fact checker May 07, 2013 at 01:17 AM
Oh dear. KFI is now involved in this manufactured "controversy?" That alone makes it a non issue.
fact checker May 07, 2013 at 01:20 AM
The strike actually saved the district quite a large amount. Just for clarifications sake.
Capo mom May 07, 2013 at 06:32 PM
A statement worthy of a CUEA hack, factchecker. Stop serving students and save money, then give it to teachers.
Mike T May 07, 2013 at 06:33 PM
What difference did it make? The teachers weren't going to teach anything that day (or probably for the entire week before) anyways. I bet most students watched a movie or played games that day rather than receive an education.
Capo Parent May 07, 2013 at 07:02 PM
Because its BS.
Capo Parent May 07, 2013 at 07:05 PM
I guess you're all about the $. Nothing wrong with the story line, In your critique you conveniently forget to mention that Penny asked CUSD for info and clarification and got neither. I guess you're CUSD's de facto mouth piece given your postings. I guess more hot air will follow.
Capo Parent May 07, 2013 at 07:12 PM
According to my high schooler, Friday was movie day. Given the number of classrooms showing movies that day and that week CUSD should have offered popcorn and made some extra $. ADA + popcorn cash = no education, but more mula.
fact checker May 08, 2013 at 09:53 PM
You can't have it both ways mom. It either cost money or saved money. No need to debate history. Your opinions are clear.


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