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Official Explains 'Damage Control'

January 21, 1998|LISA FERNANDEZ

Who recalls the media frenzy when a remote-controlled explosive device was found on the campus of Newbury Park High School in 1988?

Or when a Westlake Elementary School fifth-grader dressed up as Hitler and gave a sympathetic Nazi speech?

Or when a 17-year-old Newbury Park High student was fatally burned climbing an electrical tower?

Those were the scenarios Conejo Valley Unified School District Assistant Supt. Rich Simpson recalled before a room full of parents on Tuesday during a short talk called "When Bad Things Happen to Good Schools."

He was asked by the parents, who serve as school-site representatives, to help explain how the district conducts "damage control" after a negative incident. The timing of his discussion coincided with the recent hazing scandal at Westlake High School, where some members of the wrestling team prodded the buttocks of other students with a mop handle.

Only a few parents at the District Advisory Council's monthly meeting raised their hands to show they remembered the anecdotes that made news several years back. And that was exactly Simpson's point: to show that the hazing scandal, too, shall pass.

"How do you recover?" he asked. "It comes with time. People don't remember them [the bad stories] if it's not the nature of the school. Our SAT scores and college-admission rates haven't gone down with this incident."

Of course, Conejo Valley schools aren't perfect. "I invite you to listen to the police scanner on Friday and Saturday nights," Simpson said.

But overall, the schools in Thousand Oaks are more good than bad.

Simpson, along with many of the parents, blamed the media for drawing attention to "unpleasant, negative situations."

Only one person in the room defended news organizations.

"We complain about newspapers, but we buy them and that's where we get our information," said Steve Morsa, a site representative for Manzanita Elementary School. "We also complain about politicians and then we go vote for these people. We wouldn't buy newspapers if they only had good stories."

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