The presence of a military recruiter on the Santa Maria High School campus was the subject of a family forum Tuesday night at the Santa Maria Public Library, where press access was barred.
Inside the library's Shepard Hall, teachers, parents and Santa Maria High School students gathered to "[voice] concern about military recruiters on campus and the presence of a [California] National Guard recruiter," according to a press release. The forum was co-sponsored by multiple nonprofit organizations, including the Mixteco Indigena Community Organizing Project (MICOP), IMPORTA, The Fund for Santa Barbara, the McCune Foundation and Truth in Recruitment.
"This is a meeting for the community to hear about the background of this person on the [Santa Maria High School] campus, and for the community to make a decision on how they want to go forward," said Kate Connell, director for Truth in Recruitment, the Santa Barbara nonprofit group spearheading the event. According to its website, the group works primarily with students, families and schools with the goal of pressing districts to create policies limiting the presence of military recruitment on campus.
Connell barred press from covering Tuesday's event, even after a press release had been issued inviting members of the public and media to attend. She said the organization decided late last week to close the meeting due to the "sensitive" nature of the discussion, and to not jeopardize the relationship between students, teachers, parents and school administrators.
"It's about letting [students and parents] have their space and decide what they want to do next," she added. "This is the first time the group of students and parents has had a chance to discuss this with each other."
A correction to the release, stating the meeting had been made private and that only invited guests would be let in, was not issued after the decision had been made. Likewise, no mention of the forum's private status was posted to Truth in Recruitment's public Facebook event.
Connell said no specific incident involving the recruiter led to Tuesday's forum, but she raised general concern regarding his occupation of space on campus.
"[The] recruiter has an office on campus — that's the issue, the fact that he's there and has been given a space," she said. "Recruiters come to campus all the time but they don't usually have an office space."
Donald Denoyer, the recruiter in question, was contacted Tuesday night but would not comment without discussing it first with Santa Maria High Principal Joe Domingues.
While he is listed as a recruiting and retention noncommissioned officer with the California National Guard, Denoyer also facilitates an anti-bullying and holistic "rehabilitation" program (similar to restorative justice) for Santa Maria High School students involved in interpersonal altercations.
Connell offered no time frame as to when students, parents and the organization plan to go public, if at all, with their specific grievances, or what they would like to see done regarding their potential issues.
"We're going to bring it up when we take the next steps and set up a follow-up meeting," she said. "We'd be happy to talk to you once the community makes a decision."