The murder of Cindi Santana, 17, at the hands of her ex-boyfriend, Abraham Lopez, 18, on campus during a lunch break at South East High School sent shock waves through the community and the Los Angeles Unified School District.
It raised serious questions about how much responsibility schools have in terms of confronting violence on campus. According to the Los Angeles Times, “one in three adolescent girls in the U.S. has been physically, emotionally or verbally abused by a dating partner, and one in 10 high school students has been hit, slapped or physically hurt by a boyfriend or girlfriend.”
In an effort to focus more attention on the problem of violence and teen dating, the Los Angeles Board of Education approved a proposal on Tuesday that would allow schools to train one staff member to help students identify when they may be involved in an abusive relationship. Board member Steve Zimmer has spearheaded an effort to get anti-dating violence programs implemented district wide.
Patti Giggans, executive director of Peace Over Violence, a nonprofit group committed to reducing sexual, domestic and interpersonal violence, told KPCC’s Patt Morrison she’s glad that schools will now take a more active part in preventing abuse.
“Everyone has to be trained on this. If you want to change this attitude and this whole situation, the teachers have to be trained; the students have to be trained,”
Patti Giggans says that although Santana’s death sparked discourse about teen violence, negotiations with the district started six months ago, long before the murder.
“[Our policy] is not a reaction. This tragedy makes it more poignant and also ironic. We were hoping that we’d be able to have this policy before anyone was killed,” she said.
Giggans said education would have prevented the incident.
“This was on campus, and this young girl, she did everything right. So did her mother. […] What we have to do is institutionalize this at the district, and that’s what this policy is about. They do take it seriously.”
If more funding becomes available, some schools may get a visit from Peace Over Violence. The group, which currently has programs operating in schools in the district, will help youth better understand what an abusive relationship is and how to get out of one.
“They get it from the rest of us. They get it from media. They get it from wanting so much to have a boyfriend that they will do anything to keep a boyfriend,” she said. “Truthfully, I don’t think we have ever really taken on teaching people what constitutes a healthy relationship.”
Giggans said that teachers can be trained to look for warning signs, such as a messy break up, to help prevent a potentially explosive situation from escalating.
“We have to remember that it’s also emotional, psychological, and the physical. And usually people only respond when they see the physical.”
Should LAUSD fund an anti-dating violence program in the midst of massive budget cuts? Do school officials have a responsibility to identify and stop violence from occurring on campus?
Patti Giggans, executive director, Peace over Violence