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Vandals ransack five Golden Valley classrooms

Vandals vented their wrath on Merced's Golden Valley High School over the weekend but most of the damage was cleaned up or repaired before students returned Monday morning. Merced police arrested two 16-year-olds on the school's roof following the incident.

Golden Valley Principal Craig Chavez said the weekend vandalism was the most extensive he's seen. Five classrooms, offices and other locations had windows broken, fire extinguishers discharged, bookshelves turned over, food items strewn about and equipment destroyed.

Merced Union High School District Superintendent Robert Fore said vandalism to the extent manifested Monday is "pretty rare." Last June, just before graduation, Livingston High School was hit hard by vandals but damage typically is more limited.

"I'm just disgusted by this," Fore said. "Employees are doing all they can to provide an education and then you get a few people who are so disrespectful. That's where the true robbery comes in."

After insurance deductibles are satisfied, the vandalism will cost the school district with campuses in Merced, Atwater and Livingston at least $2,500, a district official said.

Studies show those who vandalize or break into schools are typically young and male, acting in small groups. Vandalism and break-ins are most common among junior high school students, and become less frequent as students reach high school.

Many vandals have done poor academically and may have been truant, suspended, or expelled. Students who vandalize schools have a poor understanding of their behavior's impact on others and are more concerned with the consequences to themselves.

Lt. Jim Gurden of the Merced Police Department said Guardco security guards heard what sounded like someone running on the roof of Golden Valley High School at 12:43 a.m. Monday.

Officers Ronald Luker and Andrew Marshall found two 16-year-old runaways from Merced on the roof. They were ordered down and had a backpack with graffiti written on it. Marshall found five cans of spray paint and rubber gloves inside the backpack.

Gurden said both boys admitted they were just there to tag the school. They denied any involvement in a recent burglary. They were booked into Merced County Juvenile Hall on charges of trespassing, possession of graffiti tools, being runaways and one had a felony warrant for burglary.

The police department's Investigations Unit is pursuing the matter and whoever is arrested faces felony charges, Gurden said.

Chavez said vandals broke a number of windows and ransacked five classrooms but the rooms were repairable. He had no estimate of damage but said "we will follow through to the extent the law allows us."

Joyce Harrison teaches severely handicapped students at Golden Valley. In her room, tables were tipped over, an overhead projector had the glass broken out of it and chocolate candy was ground into the tile. An instant camera used by her 14 students was destroyed.

"I feel totally violated," Harrison said. "I'm left with the feeling 'why?' Why would people want to be so destructive is beyond me. I've never seen anything like this in my life."

Chavez and Harrison praised the school and district maintenance staff for their resiliency in working so fast and thoroughly to clean up the mess. About 15 maintenance workers scrambled during the night to make the repairs.

Chavez said all but two of the rooms were ready to go before students arrived Monday and one was restored when classes began. The final room was expected to be put back into service by Monday afternoon after the freshly cleaned carpet had dried.

Diane Hockersmith, the high school district's deputy superintendent for business, said the district budgets $100,000 annually to apply to deductibles for theft and vandalism. The Golden Valley incident will cost the district at least $2,500.

"It was a mess," Hockersmith said. "Damage was sizable. We've had to hire a guard service and re-key the school. They (staff) worked hard to make things right."

A 1984 sociological study suggested school vandalism is motivated by anger and boredom, among other factors. In 1990, school vandalism cost the nation $600 million.

Two American schools weren't as fortunate as Golden Valley and were closed Monday while damage was being repaired. Vandals did at least $70,000 damage over the weekend to Southwood Middle School in Country Club Hills near Chicago, including smashing computers, ransacking the media room and tagging walls and student lockers.

The Phoenix Multicultural Academy, an elementary school in southwest Detroit, also was closed when the main office, cafeteria, gymnasium and 12 classrooms were damaged. In this instance, there was no sign of break-in and the offender may have hid out in school Friday when the campus was locked for the weekend.

Associate Editor Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2485 or dyawger@mercedsun-star.com.

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