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Sonoma Valley fights school vandals

  • Vandalism and graffiti is an almost daily occurrence At Sonoma Charter School in Agua Caliente. The vandalism happens overnight when the school s empty. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2010

Just hours after a worker painted over graffiti on a wall at Sonoma Charter School, someone came by in broad daylight and sprayed a large gang symbol across the facade, still wet with fresh paint.

For school director Paula Hunter, whose year has been fraught with graffiti, broken doors and a stolen computer, the new tag put her over the edge. She walked across the street into the neighborhood and began knocking on doors to ask if anyone had seen the culprit.

"Even just getting the neighbors who see something, getting them to make a call to the sheriff; they won't do it," Hunter said.

Sonoma Valley campuses this school year have been plagued by vandalism and other problems during non-school hours, costing schools time and money to patch the damage, said school officials and law enforcement officer.

In response, Sonoma County Sheriff's deputies have launched a crackdown, starting in January with a "no-tolerance policy" to loitering, said Sgt. Greg Stashyn.

"We're trying to take a pro-active stance so this criminal element doesn't take over," Stashyn said. "We're targeting folks who have no business on the school grounds, who aren't carrying footballs or soccer balls."

The policy led to eight arrests Saturday night at the El Verano School in Sonoma Valley. Deputies stopped two groups of young males, ages 15 to 18, who were hanging around the school late that night, Stashyn said.

Deputies found a knife and a small amount of marijuana. All were cited for misdemeanors and released to their parents, he said. Their cases will be reviewed by the District Attorney's office.

Deputies on weekend patrol duty pass through campuses several times each shift, paying close attention to El Verano School on Riverside Drive, Sonoma Charter School on Sonoma Highway near Agua Caliente Road West and the Flowery School on Sonoma Highway just north of Boyes Hot Springs, Stashyn said.

Deputies have responded to more than 40 reports of disturbances, burglary, suspicious vehicles and suspicious people at those three schools in just the past two months, sheriff's records show.<NO1><NO>

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