GBHS addresses creepy clown controversy


This article was written by Sidney Zabell and Surina Khurana, both writers on the Granite Bay Gazette staff.

Coulrophobia – a fear of clowns – hasn’t ever affected as many people as it does right now.

In the past few weeks, clowns have been the cause of much hysteria. Perhaps the first report of creepy clowns was a clown attempting to lure children into a forest in South Carolina at the end of August.

Since then, reports and videos have surfaced of clowns chasing people with sticks in Texas and trimming brush with a chainsaw in Illinois.

While there do seem to be several creepy, even violent clowns attempting to terrorize individuals and schools, an overwhelming majority of clowns have been reported as harmless.

At around 9 p.m. on Tues, Oct. 4, a video surfaced on Twitter of a clown swinging ominously back and forth on a swing at Feist Park, the park next to Granite Bay High School.

Connor Vivaldi, a GBHS junior, tweeted the video.

Vivaldi did not know it at the time, nor did he know when he tweeted the video, but the man in the clown costume was his International Baccalaureate film teacher and the GBHS media coordinator Zachary Weidkamp.

Several students – all unaware the video was a hoax – were concerned there was a potentially dangerous clown in the Granite Bay community.

Two students came to the administration with their concerns on the morning of Wed, Oct. 5.

Assistant principal Mike Fischer also acknowledged, in an email, that there have recently been “parent phone calls” regarding clown hysteria.

“We are addressing it by asking people to refrain from any jokes or pranks, and by simply submitting accurate information so law enforcement and school officials can assess the validity of the information and act accordingly,” Fischer said. “Although many of these (incidents) appear to be pranks or hoaxes, there have been a number of crimes – some of them violent – associated with people dressed as clowns.”

The video was taken down from Vivaldi’s Twitter account that day.

In an email sent to GBHS students and parents on the afternoon of Oct. 5, principal Jennifer Leighton assured the community that the “clown sighting at Feist Park was a hoax.”

Following Leighton’s email and a phone call from the school, the Roseville Joint Union High School District sent a followup email stating that “the safety and security of our students and staff is our number one priority.”

The district later released a statement to KOVR/Ch. 13, the CBS affiliate in Sacramento, noting that disciplinary actions had not yet been determined for the students or teacher involved.

According to the California Education Code, school districts are not permitted to release information about student disciplinary actions or personnel matters to the public.

Neither Vivaldi nor any other students present at the time of the incident have been disciplined with suspensions. Weidkamp, however, has been absent from school since mid-day Wed, Oct. 5.

“Unfortunately, I cannot comment since it is a district personnel issue,” Weidkamp said in an email, responding to an interview request.


Clowns and school safety
Many schools across the nation have gone into lockdown following threats from clowns on various social media sites.

According to a story in the Sacramento Bee, the Elk Grove and Natomas Unified school districts sent letters to parents regarding a school hit list, which was published on Instagram under the username @sac.townclowns.

The Bee also reported that the Instagram account @mozzytheclown posted a list of five schools in the Marysville area and threatened to “shoot all the kids and the teachers.”

In the RJUHSD email sent out last week, parents were advised to “make sure (their children) don’t bring (clown attire) to school.”

The email also noted that “if your child comes into contact with anyone with clown attire, they should immediately report it to school officials.”

On Fri, Oct. 7, several students were uneasy when Brietbart originally reported that GBHS along with Jesuit High School, Oakridge High School and several other local schools were on a “hit list” on a clown’s Instagram account, which has since been deleted.

“When threats are communicated via social media specifically targeting schools, school officials have to take precautions and have to investigate these threats and activities,” Fischer said.

Brad Basham, the RJUHSD executive director for personnel services, added that no direct threats have been made to any school in the district.

“We have had … reported sightings at several of the schools, not just Granite Bay High School,” Basham said. “We also had a sighting at Roseville Adult school, at Oakmont, at Woodcreek as well as Antelope High School last week that were reported by students to staff.”


Teacher discipline
Jarrod Westberg, who is an Advanced Placement Government teacher and the Roseville Secondary Education Association’s faculty advocate chairperson and grievance chair, said he couldn’t comment about any specific situation, but he was willing to broadly discuss the issue of teacher discipline in the district.

“Most of the stuff (when teacher discipline arises) is a misunderstanding … and gets worked out in an informal setting,” Westberg said.

According to Westberg, the RSEA’s contract with the school district encourages district officials, site administration and the teachers to work things out at the informal, site-level stage, before taking the issue to the district.

Should teachers feel the decision made at the site level is unjust, they have the right to enter the grievance process.

“(You go through) the grievance process when something violated the contract,” Westberg said. “Then there are very specific steps you have to go through. That’s when a teacher feels like they’ve been wronged by what is outlined in the contract, the district doesn’t agree and then you move to that more formal side.”

“The whole idea is to use a level of discipline that is going teach and help that person make better decisions in the future and change their behavior,” Basham said. “We’re not looking (to) throw a 1000 pound rock on any person. We try to find that lowest common denominator and use that progressive discipline model.”

Basham said the level of discipline would vary should a similar incident arise now or in the next few weeks.

“At this point we’ve warned everybody,” Basham said. “They know that it’s not appropriate, and they know that we’re going to treat this very seriously. And at that point, it becomes more an act of disruption and defiance, and so the consequence is probably going to be greater for somebody who does it at this point versus somebody who did it (on Oct. 4) when it became more of an awareness situation.

“This is more about education and helping people make better decisions.”


Gazette reporters Will Anderson and Katie Cologna contributed to this report.