ALVISO, Calif. — Two girls have been barred from their grade school because of fears their father--suspected of killing their older half-brother--may return to harm them and others.
"Your brother dies; you already lost that. Then your dad is gone. Then they take the school away from you," said 10-year-old Angie Toscano, bursting into tears and reaching for her mother. "It's not fair, Mommy."
Santa Clara Unified School District officials recognize the tragedy of the case involving the girl and her 7-year-old sister, Veronica.
"If we thought it was safe, we'd put them back in a minute," said Gene Unger, the district's assistant superintendent for educational services. "They should be with their schoolmates. They're the victims now. That's the sad thing."
But he said the district is responsible for all students at George Mayne School. Unger said police believe that everyone is at risk because the father has threatened to kidnap the girls and harm their mother.
The district has sent Angie's and Veronica's assignments home and offered once-a-week tutoring. Their mother, Marianela Toscano, has rejected home instruction because she wants her daughters back in class, but is considering a new offer of daily visits by a teacher at a place away from home.
Police suspect the girls' father, Rafael Toscano, of fatally shooting his 17-year-old stepson, Larry Ochoa. Toscano is believed to have fled to Mexico shortly after the shooting.
The family last heard from the father in mid-April, when he called to wish Veronica happy birthday.
Before that, the girls were in school. But their mother, acting on police advice, pulled them out for a while. She learned of the district's decision to keep her daughters out of Mayne when they returned to class after spring break.
Marianela Toscano said she no longer feels any threat from her husband because friends and family in Mexico have told her that he is in a small town, has no money and is unlikely to return.
Police Sgt. John Lax said police are seeking a Mexican arrest warrant, but authorities do not know where Toscano is now.
Martha Matthews, a lawyer with the National Center for Youth Law in San Francisco, said the district could be setting a dangerous percent by excluding Angie and Veronica.
Others say the district's action is reasonable.
"Just read the papers," said Joe Symkowick, general counsel for the state Department of Education. "We have a history in California of kids getting shot in school, unfortunately. It's not like it's never happened before."