Traffic backed up down Freedom Blvd
Traffic backed up down Freedom Boulevard on Tuesday afternoon as an Aptos High student was airlifted away after being stabbed.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)
K-12 Education

A fearful Friday looms: Aptos High parents grapple with emotions of sending children back to school

With Aptos High students set to return to school Friday in the wake of this week’s fatal stabbing, parents are dealing with the inevitable trauma of whether the school environment is safe. Counselors say those emotions are very normal.

Hundreds of Aptos High School parents are faced with the mixed emotions of having to send their children back to school on Friday following a fatal stabbing that occured on campus Tuesday.

For Hannah Berglund, whose family moved to Aptos from Palo Alto two years ago, thoughts of sending her son to private school, or even back to Palo Alto, after Tuesday’s events have frequented her mind.

Berglund’s freshman son was in the middle of an exam when the school went into lockdown. His teacher closed all the blinds, barricaded the door and turned the lights off. Soon after, 12 police officers stormed the classroom and took a student for questioning. Berglund received text updates from her son during the lockdown, but wasn’t able to see him until almost three hours later.

“I’m not OK with sending him in there again, not at all,” Berglund said. “There’s the fear of like, every time you leave your kid at school, is this the last time I’m going to see him? It’s a feeling that I never had before I moved here.”

For Berglund and many other Aptos parents who have voiced their concerns via social media, most of the uncertainty and lack of safety on campus relates directly to the absence of a school resource officer (SRO) on the Aptos High School campus.

It was a topic addressed bluntly by county sheriff Jim Hart on Wednesday, as well as by Pajaro Valley Unified School District Superintendent Michelle Rodriguez. Both will be involved in a community discussion that will be livestreamed Thursday night at 7:30 p.m.

A vote by district trustees in July 2020 ended funding for SROs in PVUSD and redirected that money to counseling and intervention programs.

The Santa Cruz County Office of Education set up grief counseling sites at Cabrillo College locations in Aptos and Watsonville to support parents, students and teachers. Support will be available Thursday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

According to Rodriguez, about 10 students and parents attended counseling at both sites on Wednesday. Rodriguez said she was hopeful more students will take advantage of the counseling services Thursday.

Michael Paynter, who is the director of student support services for the county’s office of education, says a team of counselors will also be available to students on their first day back on campus on Friday. Paynter says counseling services will be available on campus for weeks and even months following Tuesday’s incident.

Aptos High parent and Santa Cruz Assistant City Manager Laura Schmidt also said she feels torn about sending her daughter back to school on Friday. She took time to work from home Wednesday to be close to her daughter Erin following the incident.

Traffic backed up down Freedom Blvd
Law enforcement at the entrance to Aptos High following Tuesday’s stabbing attack.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

“I am probably more upset than [Erin] is and I think that seems to be happening with parents who have high schoolers in school. I think at Erin’s age and as teenagers that understanding of their mortality is not there,” she said. “So, it’s frightening as a parent — you think you can send your child to school, and that they’re safe there. And with something like this, that comfort and that security and that sense of safety is out of the window.”

Jessica Silva, a behavioral health clinician for the county, says it is normal for parents to feel more unease toward this kind of a traumatic situation than their children do.

“It makes sense to me that parents would be really worried or upset about these types of situations because it’s their responsibility to keep their kids safe,” Silva said. “They’re not just thinking about themselves, but they’re thinking about others.”

It makes sense to me that parents would be really worried or upset about these types of situations because it’s their responsibility to keep their kids safe. They’re not just thinking about themselves, but they’re thinking about others.

Silva emphasized that this is where emotional first aid comes in. Unlike grief counseling, emotional first aid focuses on a certain traumatic experience that has occurred and allows victims to talk through their feelings in relation to that event.

Silva adds that talking to someone immediately following a traumatic experience can prevent a long-lasting cycle of intense feelings for both students and parents. She says emotional first aid guides people to getting the support they need and feeling hopeful for the future.

Although worried about sending her daughter back to school, Schmidt is optimistic the Aptos High community will be able to help each other through the healing process.

“I’m terrified. But I also know that as a parent, we can’t project that terror onto our children, because they have to be able to live,” she said. “I have no doubt that we’ll get through it, but it’s so painful to conceive of what happened, and the impact it is going to have on the campus. It’s gonna take a long time. But I think if any community can come together, I have a lot of faith in the Aptos High community.”