Community Staff Raises Concerns over Topnish School District Firearms Procedures Following Incidents Involving Cernas | native

Topnish School District staff and community members this week raised concerns about the county’s weapons policy and procedures, following reports of two cases of unauthorized weapons on campus.

Since 2014, the county has allowed some principals to carry firearms as part of its school’s safety program. These people are mostly kept anonymous for security reasons, according to county officials. They must have a concealed firearms license and undergo training led by Justin Maloney from the Yakima County Sheriff’s Office.

The critical incident response team is made up of armed crew members and will be the first line of defense in active shooting mode, district officials said at a community meeting Tuesday at Topnish High School. The district also has a school safety and security advisory committee that includes law enforcement, staff, community stakeholders and insurance officials, according to documents distributed at the meeting.

Community members and district employees said they feared the firearms policies and procedures were not implemented in two cases last school year.

Unauthorized weapons

A district investigation conducted by Yakima’s attorney Sarah Wickson examined potential cases of misuse of firearms by former Topish High School deputy principal Johnny L. Charna and former THS teacher Bertha Cherna.

Johnny Sarna hung up when asked to answer the phone. Berta Cherna’s voicemail was full.

The investigation found claims that were more likely than not that Johnny Sarna appeared drunk and with a live weapon for training in February 2021 that was supposed to include only Ruby Airsoft and that Bertha Sarna brought a gun to the THS campus in May 2021. The district fired Johnny and Bertha Sarna in January 2022, following reports. Who found credibility in further allegations of misconduct by the married couple.

Johnny Serena is the son of County Superintendent John M. Sarna, who attended the community meeting on Tuesday.

In her report on Johnny Serena, Wickson wrote that during an active shooting practice held in February 2021, workers were told to leave weapons at home for safety reasons. His weapon, according to the report.

The director told Assistant Superintendent and Human Resources Manager Sean Myers about the incident, according to the report. Myers confirmed to the Yakima Herald-Republic on Wednesday that he told Inspector Sarna about the incident shortly after he learned of it.

Johnny Serena denied coming to a drunk training and told Wickson that he took his gun to his car, according to the report.

Safety and co-managers Aligio Jimenez and Scott Klenberger said Justin Maloney was in charge of the training and the incident was not reported to them. Justin Maloney also said the incident was not reported to him and he was not aware of it at the time.

Community members at the meeting asked how it was possible that the safety chiefs were unaware of the incident.

“In order for you to carry firearms in these buildings with all these children, you need to know everything about everyone. That answer is unacceptable,” said community member and former county employee David Hinucha.

Community members also noted that Johnny Serena should not have been allowed to remain on the response team after the incident. Myers confirmed on Wednesday that to the best of his knowledge, Johnny Sarna has not been fired from the CIRT following the February 2021 incident.

Superintendent Serena said he was present at this training, and he did not smell alcohol in Johnny Serena’s breath. He also questioned the findings of the investigation during the meeting.

“Not everything in this report was true, I just want you to know that,” Superintendent Sarna said.

After the meeting, Superintendent Serena would not comment on his confidence in the report and made media inquiries to Myers.

“I think she (Wickson) conducted a thorough investigation that was multifaceted,” Myers said after the meeting.

In a follow-up interview Wednesday, Myers said the county acted on the findings of the investigation.

Community members also raised concerns about the incident in which Bertha Cerna was involved. According to Wickson’s report on Bertha Cerna, a manager saw a gun in Bertha Carna’s wallet when he was on campus in May 2021.

Bertha Serena denied bringing a real gun to campus and said it was a toy gun, according to the report.

Wixon concluded that based on available evidence, it is more likely than not that Bertha Cerna did indeed bring a gun to campus, according to the report.

“I’m worried about overseeing everything because – first of all I’m worried that he was a person who was not part of the plan that allegedly brought a gun to campus and he was not secure. Oh my God, I can not even imagine if anything would have happened in this situation,” said Kara Supent, a THS employee.

Superintendent Sarna again investigated the incident as described in the report, and asked if anyone referring to the report had seen the gun.

Supnet noted that this incident must have been reported at some point if it was under investigation by Wixson, who was hired by the county to investigate these allegations.

Co-president of the Topnish Education Association, Neil Pendelberry, said police should have been called when Bertha Serena brought unlicensed firearms to campus. A number of community members asked why the safety team did not follow up and spoke with the workers who reported witnesses to these incidents.

TEA co-president Katie Haynes said some teachers are afraid to get to work because it seems to them that the weapons policy is not being implemented properly.

“And I need to be able to reassure them that this is a safe policy, it’s properly monitored, the reliable people who carry the guns that are here to protect you and they know what to do when the situation arises … that’s really what it comes down to,” Haynes said.

Moving forward

Superintendent Sarna agreed to re-evaluate and update the policies and procedures of the weapons. He said he would meet with Robin Johnson, a THS employee who requested the community meeting and pointed out possible holes in the policy. Policy changes will need to be approved by the Topnish School Board.

He also encouraged staff and community members who hear about dangerous incidents to report.

After the meeting, Myers said the county will take steps to ensure proper and well-known reporting procedures to staff.

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