An assembly at Trinity High School intended to alert students to the dangers of vaping may have started from the script and inadvertently communicated the wrong message to some, based on a presentation from the school’s counselor.

Trinity Alps Unified School District Supt. Jaime Green stressed that it absolutely was not the intention.  

On Friday afternoon, Green said he had been fielding calls from students and parents since 4 p.m. Thursday from parents whose kids told them the assembly may have expressed racial or xenophobic undertones during a presentation from school counselor Jim Pindell. Also contacted Friday, Pindell said his intention was not to sound disparaging of any race, but to motivate kids to be safe and stay in school.

What happened

Green explained that the district will soon be joining other school districts from Modoc, Yreka, Shasta and Fall River soon to hold a summit on vaping. He said that within districts, many are worried about teenage students, as the pandemic and other factors may leave some with a lack of hope and the means to find mental wellness. He said the summit will be a way for administrators to try to get in front of the problem and find solutions. He said that since Trinity is one of few schools to be continuing with face-to-face learning, he also wanted students to know that by working hard, they will be able to get ahead of other schools academically.

According to minutes from a district planning session Jan. 19, “Jim Pindell told all present that he would like to have an outside assembly, with Jaime Green’s help, to address the THS students about the vaping problem on campus. He said the students need inspiration and hope, they need to know the district cares about them and that we need their help in solving the problem.”

“The intent was just to let them know we care about them,” Green said, noting that he and principal Sandy Coatney also gave presentations to that end at the assembly. He said that after so many months, it was heartwarming to see them gathered for two assemblies. He said staff’s hearts go out to the students, since the district cannot currently offer sports, art, drama and music.

“They’re losing more and more,” he said. “What can we do?”

Green said it was unfortunate that the goals of the assembly may have been missed due to the presentation. He said many parents and others had called the district to say the presentation seemed xenophobic to their kids or had racial undertones.

The presentation

An audio recording of part of the presentation was provided to the Journal and transcribed. A partially discernible sentence starts the recording with Pindell saying, “… got renegotiated so Trump gets dumped in the election- Y’know the Chinese assume, I don’t know if it’s gonna be this way, but they figure the next administration, Biden, is gonna be a little cozier (shuffling noise). I hope that’s not the case. We still gotta be a strong America, right?”

Pindell continued by discussing fentanyl, a powerful analgesic, 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. He said the drugs get across the U.S./ Mexico border by way of “mulas” (mules), and told a story of his friend, a Mexican national and a “good family man” who lost three brothers to the drug trade.

Pindell then spoke of a student who had come to him “freaking out” with bloody hands after smoking an unknown powder and hallucinating that his teacher was coming through his bedroom window.

“Paranoia. He was really reckless, did some really bad drug and it’s three days later and he’s still on the (unintelligible). Not good,” Pindell can be heard saying. “But we have a problem at the border. Y’know, we have some of our people in Congress calling for open borders, trying to defund the police. You gotta be kidding me, man, that’s really reckless. That’s as reckless as my buddy at the school. That’s crazy. You can’t do that.”

The following is taken from the transcript: “So, (clears throat) the Chinese have been catching it. We are at war, we’re at war, it’s a different kind of war, it’s economic, it’s technology. You guys know who’s been stealing our technology, intellectual property, you know what I’m talking about? They’re stealing it, yeah. They’re kicking our butts, guys, we need every single one of you to help and, uh, we’re in a war.

"People, too many of our kids in this country are getting high, so many of our kids are distracted on Tik-Tok. Hey, if I’m home every night, bored, I’m going to Tik-Tok, cool. (unintelligible) some cool stuff there? Right? (a few kids laughing) Probably so, really cool stuff, but there’s also, y’know, if you’re posting on Tik-Tok, or any of these social platforms, there’s also some bad people (unintelligible) and try to do you harm, try to mess with you online. There’s a downside to that.

"So here we are, we got too many kids high, too many kids distracted with social media and I’m saying that we gotta stay alert. We do. We gotta stay alert, we gotta win this war. I don’t want to learn Mandarin. I don’t want to speak Chinese.”

Pindell explains

Contacted Friday by phone, Pindell said Green had just called to tell him that some parents were saying the school should not be addressing such issues.

He said his presentation at the assembly was to dissuade kids from unhealthy behaviors, and that he also spoke of the chemical makeup and toxicity of E cigarettes and other substances.

“Again, the whole presentation had to do with wanting every kid to be engaged in school,” he said, “and that ‘we need every one of you. We can’t be divided as a nation.’” Asked about his comments on China, Pindell said he did so in the context of it being an economic rival to the U.S. and that much fentanyl comes from China. He said the same of his Mexican border comments, saying, “We have to maintain control over the border. I’m a psychologist, I know where it’s coming from.”

Pindell said the purpose of his message was for students to engage in healthy practices and stay in school.

“Sometimes, when things are dark, when things close down, we forget where our creativity is. Where are our dreams? How do you get it back?” he asked at the assembly. “Then we get excited, and sometimes those creative roots are deep in the ground, man. You gotta dig. Dig down to find out what it is that makes you excited and happy and looking forward to the future.” Pindell urged kids to talk to teachers and parents and stay connected to each other.

“We need every single one of you guys to stay positive, stay connected, believe in the future, and go for it,” he said at the close of his presentation.

The following day, Pindell said he was “deeply embarrassed” if anything he said caused a problem for the district or left any parent or student feeling as if the district didn’t fully support them.

“I didn’t want it to be a disparagement of any race,” he said.

Green echoed the sentiment, saying the district would never allow anything that could be considered xenophobic and that the district prides itself on its diversity and support of all students.

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