How Can We Make Our Schools As Safe and Secure As Possible?

On October 1st, a student walked onto the campus of Umpqua Community College in Oregon and fatally shot nine people, injured nine others, and shot at two police officers before taking his own life.  The details of the event are not only horrifying, but also disturbingly familiar.  All of us recall the senseless mass shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in 2012, where 20 first-graders and six adults were gunned down, and at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999, where two students killed 12 students and one teacher, and injured 21 more before taking their own lives.

In the weeks since the Umpqua shootings, I have been speaking directly with administrators, teachers, and parents about campus security, and what it means to provide safe and secure schools.  These conversations are a continuation of discussions we have had across this District for several years, even before the tragedy at Sandy Hook focused national attention on issues of school-based violence.

Since 1999, this District has steadily reviewed its policies and procedures to improve campus safety and security: requiring identification badges for all staff and visitors, upgrading locks and other security hardware, installing two-way communications systems in classrooms and offices, conducting security drills, consulting with school security experts as well as the Piedmont Police and Fire Departments, revising security protocols for school visitors, and adding safety fences and hardware where feasible.  Much has been done, but there is still room for improvement.

Each of Piedmont Unified’s six school sites presents distinct security challenges.  For example, some but not all sites can be enclosed with perimeter fencing. Some campuses have multiple points of entry, while others are more restricted.  The architectural design of some sites lends itself to a more secure entrance, with clear sight lines to all visitors entering the school.  The school sites also vary in their security practices.  Some sites more vigorously enforce requirements that visitors sign in at the office when entering campus.  Some school sites have had strong parent engagement concerning whether school entrances should be locked during the school day, with strong opinions both for and against locked doors.

As you may already know, the District is already in the process of conducting a year-long assessment of all school facilities, and school safety is part of this review.  Each site Principal will assess his or her site’s security issues, and work with families and staff to identify possible improvements for inclusion in our new Facilities Master Plan.  We encourage all families and members of the community to become involved in this facilities review.   The site meetings are as follows:

Piedmont Middle School:                     November 2nd              3:30pm-5:00pm

Millennium High School:                      November 5th               3:30pm-5:00pm

Havens Elementary School:               November 12th             3:30pm-5:00pm

Wildwood Elementary School:            November 19th             3:30pm-5:00pm

Beach Elementary School:                  November 30th             3:30pm-5:00pm

Piedmont High/Millennium High:        December 1st               3:30pm-5:00pm

Following these individual school site meetings, the Board of Education will host a special meeting dedicated to reviewing all input received at the school site meetings.  The meeting will be held on December 14, 2015 at 9:00 am in the PUSD District Office.  As with the site meetings, members of the public are encouraged to participate.

The District will host two additional public meetings to solicit community input on the adequacy of school facilities.  These meetings will be held on January 12th from 7:00pm to 8:30pm, and January 19th from 7:00pm to 8:30pm.

The Board of Education will likely approve the Facilities Master Plan — priorities for facilities improvements going forward — in February.

I’d like to emphasize that discussions about how to keep students safe and secure must include more than fences, locks, and facilities.  The discussion must also include support for the social and emotional needs of our students.  Improving school security may require expansion of services provided by the Wellness Center, for example, to provide more support for students and families struggling with mental health issues.  It may involve reductions in class size at the secondary level or other measures that allow teachers to foster stronger connections with individual students.  It may involve frank, age-appropriate conversations with students about both violence prevention and emergency procedures.

It is clear that we cannot anticipate and prevent every conceivable security issue.  Nonetheless, the District continues to consider all possible means to enhance school safety and security, and welcomes community input concerning these issues.  If you are unable to attend your school site’s Facilities Master Planning meetings, or if you have questions about how to talk with your student about school security, please contact your site Principal or me at RBooker@piedmont.k12.ca.us

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