Administration investigates vandalism across campus

An outbreak of vandalism has swept through campus in recent weeks. According to Principal Kathleen Laurence, the graffiti has mainly affected the school bathrooms, and the strong chemicals used to wash off the markings resulted in students being prohibited from using the facilities in the hours following cleanup by campus supervisors.

Other spots around campus have also been vandalized, according to Custodian Supervisor Luciano Hernandez. “It has been in the N building, the J building and the Village,” Hernandez said. “It has also been in the F wing where the lockers are.” There was graffiti on the side of the N building stairs on April 30, resulting in the area being closed off with caution tape to be repainted.

A trend of vandalism of this magnitude has so far been unheard of at Gunn. “There’s always been graffiti, but nothing really bad like this,” Hernandez said. “Nothing like this has happened in my 20 years of being here, not to this extreme.”

The graffiti has included negative messages directed at Gunn administrators and the Palo  Alto Unified School District (PAUSD) officials. “From what I read on the graffiti, it is targeting the admin, targeting the [school] board, maybe the board members,” Hernandez said.

Other than messages that were directed to the administration, the graffiti included a variety of drawings, jokes, poems and political statements, many of which were posted and circulated on students’ social media. In one message, students protested against the Social Emotional Learning and Functionality (SELF) program by writing on a bathroom stall, “Your SELF is just causing pain, this class is a bore, to you, I implore ditch SELF or we’ll all go insane.” Other messages have included pop culture references such as “Star Wars is better than Star Trek.” The vandalism has also addressed concerns presented by the school regarding vandalism, including a message that said, “So how are we hurting people? Explain and we might reconsider.” Another calls Palo Alto a bubble, and says graffiti is a way to “pop” it.

Sophomore Heather Aurora sees the graffiti as a form of protest. “Students are fed up with administration and they don’t have any other way to unleash their anger,” she said. “I know students who have tried talking to the administration and voicing their complaints and nothing ever really changes, so at this point people just resort to writing stuff on the bathroom walls.”According to Aurora, complaints have stemmed from discontent regarding teacher treatment toward different groups of people. “The administration is treating different groups of people differently,” she said. “In the environment here teachers will treat different students differently if they don’t have good grades regardless of what they really know about the student’s life.”

However, not all students support the vandals’ actions. “I’m kind of disappointed in Gunn students who have done the vandalism,” junior Drew Stanley said. “I think we can do a lot better and I’m disappointed that we’re destroying our campus and hurting our learning environment.”

Campus Supervisor Jorge Sanchez shares Stanley’s sentiment towards the vandalism. “I’m mostly sad that people want to vandalize our beautiful campus that we have here,”he said. Sanchez also feels that the steps taken by the vandals were not constructive and that there are better options for people in the vandals’ positions to voice their opinions.

The administration has recognized the discontent of students reflected in the vandalism. “All behavior is a form of communication and it’s really clear that there is probably a subsection of students that feel that their voice isn’t heard,” Assistant Principal Tara Keith said. “I think one thing that can be done differently is to allow for more student voice and choice, and we need to do a better job in hearing from a cross section of students throughout campus, not just in the office.”

The administration is trying to find the students responsible for the vandalism, but is having difficulty due to the lack of evidence. According to Laurence, some of the messages left by the vandals address this. “There is some taunting in there about ’you can’t catch me because you can’t have cameras in the bathroom,’” Laurence said. “We do have video of the area but it’s dependent upon [knowing] what time it was to actually make the video any kind of useful.” In one graffiti message left by a student on the bathroom wall, they taunt, “You know it’s illegal in the state of California to put cameras in the bathroom. How are you going to catch us?”

Punishment for vandalism can vary on a case-by-case basis. According to Keith, punishments can be doled out by going through the school or through the legal system. “If we are going to a route of going and pressing charges, then there will be some consequences through the police department and juvenile court,” Keith said. “In terms of consequences through the school, it would depend on the nature of the vandalism and the value of vandalism since we are driven by [education] code and want to be as restorative as possible.”

The administration is willing to hear student ideas on how graffiti can be prevented in the future. “I’m open to ideas,” Laurence said. “It’s really cool when you get the [student perspective] and the [adult perspective] together because then you got the really cool ideas and people who can say, ’Wow, that’s a great idea, let’s see how we can make it work.’ So I think partnering with the students is a really good way to resolve these kind of problems.”

As a short-term solution, Hernandez encourages students to keep a watchful eye on students participating in vandalism. “Everybody can help, even the students,” Hernandez said. “If they see somebody writing, they could help out the school, and that would be great.”