Bahai News -- San Bernardino County Sun - Principal deplores students' looting Article Last Updated: Thursday, March 06, 2003 - 9:54:08 PM PST

Principal deplores students' looting

Store owner Masood Behroozi, left, receives a visit from Canoga Park High School principal Dennis Thompson. (Evan Yee / Daily News)
By Lisa M. Sodders
Staff Writer

Canoga Park High Principal Dennis Thompson apologized Thursday to the owner of a gas station convenience store that was ransacked by several of the school's students during an unruly anti-war march against U.S. policy on Iraq.

Visiting Masood Behroozi at his Mobil gas station at Topanga Canyon and Victory boulevards, Thompson told him the students would be punished and that he was determined to turn Wednesday's incident into a learning experience.

"We can't make the things the dumb kids did go away," Thompson said. "But yesterday was a 'teachable moment,' and we're bound and determined to turn a negative into a positive."

Behroozi, an Iranian native who fled his country with his family in 1985 because of persecution over their Bahai faith, accepted the principal's offer to speak to several classes at Canoga Park.

"I don't want anything to happen to their future," Behroozi said. "I want them to get a message, but not in deep trouble.

"I have no personal feeling against them. It will make them good humans not (to) have hate in their hearts. We should get positive results from this -- for society and for them. The kids should know the value of their freedom."

Eighteen years ago, Behroozi, his wife, 10-year-old-son and 2-year-old daughter fled Iran, fearing they would have been imprisoned or killed. He paid about $70,000 to smugglers who took them on a perilous four-day trip through the desert until they reached Pakistan and eventually made their way to America.

On Wednesday, about 500 Canoga Park High students skipped class to participate in a lunchtime anti-war march that was part of a world protest against U.S. policy on Iraq.

A small group broke free and began to loot the gas station convenience store, stealing snack foods and tipping over displays, causing about $500 worth of damage. Police, who anticipate making five to six arrests, are reviewing the store's security tapes and a Daily News photo to identify perpetrators.

School officials also said students who participated in the vandalism will be sent to other schools, and all students were considered truant and will be punished accordingly.

Thompson said several students who led the march plan to apologize to Behroozi personally.

Students also broke a window at a nearby Carl's Jr. restaurant and smashed a car window. A fight broke out in front of another business.

On Thursday, Thompson had teachers in every class read a statement he had written denouncing the violence.

"The demonstrators wanted to send a message of anti-war and nonviolence, but this message was not heard by the community," Thompson wrote. "They heard and saw a message that Canoga Park High School is full of vandals and criminals. We all know that this is not true. We also know that our school is working very hard to improve in everything we do."

Many students expressed dismay and anger over the looting.

"The reputation of the school is shattered," said Giselle Castanon, 17. "We didn't mean to look for chaos; we wanted to show we don't want any war. "

Ashley Humble, 16, added: "It was stupid and childish of them to do what they did. There's a lot more good kids than bad kids."

Thompson said school officials, fearful that injuries would occur, did not to try to stop students leaving the campus Wednesday. Five administrators, including Thompson, accompanied the students, and school police officers followed the crowd in a car.

"We just got overwhelmed; there were too many of them," said Thompson, adding that administrators were unaware of the looting until later.

To encourage future peaceful debate, Thompson said, the school will set up an open microphone at lunch for students to discuss the impending war, and social studies classes will be encouraged to talk about the history of dissent in the country.

©Copyright 2003, San Bernardino County Sun (CA, USA)

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