Solana Beach School District steps up security at Skyline, other schools

Solana Beach School District
Solana Beach School District
(Kristina Houck)

In response to the attempted abduction of a child at Skyline Elementary School, the Solana Beach School District is taking extra steps to ensure student safety.

San Diego County Sheriff’s officials announced April 2 the arrest of Jack Henry Doshay. The 22-year-old Fairbanks Ranch man was booked into the Vista Detention Facility late April 1 on charges of child cruelty, false imprisonment with violence and kidnapping in connection with the March 23 attempted abduction of a 7-year-old girl at Skyline School.

According to officials, the suspect approached the girl as she was heading to an after-school program. He allegedly put his hand over her mouth, tried to wrap packing tape around her head and attempted to pick her up.

The girl kicked and screamed, attracting the attention of teachers and staff. The suspect ran and was at large until his recent arrest.

“She’s really the hero of that day,” said board president Vicki King during a special board meeting April 3. “She did everything right. She started everything in motion so that the district staff could help scare this suspect away and avert the actual kidnapping. I don’t know her, but I’m proud of her.”

Following the attempted kidnapping, the district announced it was reviewing and refining its safety protocols to ensure student safety before and after school. The district also declared it would implement new protocols to make sure students safely transition to after-school programs.

District and school officials held a meeting for Skyline School parents following the incident to answer questions, hear concerns and inform them about new safety measures. Among the new measures, the district approved a contract with Elite Services for a security guard at Skyline School.

The security guard has since been in place 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. every school day. During a special meeting April 3, the Solana Beach School Board ratified a $5,500 contract for security guard services through April 30, when the district expects to have additional fencing in place.

The board also approved a contract with American Fence Company for a district-wide fencing project — a project board members approved earlier this year.

At Skyline School, the district is installing a gate with buzzer access at the entrance of the campus. American Fence Company will begin work on April 6, the start of Spring Recess, and should have the gate finished by the end of the break. Also on the district’s list of Skyline improvements is raising the gate around the kindergarten yard and temporarily blocking the open access points around the campus until permanent fencing is installed.

“All of our other schools are completely enclosed during the day, where you have to go through an entry point,” explained Superintendent Nancy Lynch. “At Skyline, you are told to go through the office, but you can get onto campus without going through the office. It is the only school that’s like that.”

As part of the already approved project, the district is installing fencing at Skyline, as well as the district office, Solana Highlands School and Solana Ranch School.

Caroline Brown, director of technology and new facilities, noted there are currently more than 30 gates at the district headquarters, where the Child Development Center is also located.

“We’re looking at all of the campuses,” Brown said.

In the near future, the district plans to also install or enhance fencing at all of its schools, including around the entire perimeter at Skyline and around the kindergarten playground at Solana Vista School. Because of this, American Fence Company’s accepted not-to-exceed $166,225 bid includes per unit pricing valid through June 2016 for other identified projects.

The board also authorized staff to solicit bids from companies for a district-wide multi-camera security system. Staff expects the system to cost $200,000 to $300,000. Some board members said the costs could be more, but they all agreed such a system is needed.

Board member Richard Leib, an attorney whose professional background includes legislation for red-light cameras, noted that not everyone would be in favor of the cameras.

“Be aware. We got criticism for not having cameras; we’re going to have criticism for having cameras,” Leib said. “I think, given the situation, it is vital that we go ahead and do this. I think a lot of other schools will follow suit.”

“Whatever is done should be part of a long-range master plan,” added board vice president Debra Schade. “It can’t be a Band-Aid.”

In addition to plans for a new window in the front door at Skyline’s main office, the district is considering installing a camera near the school’s new gate so the front desk clerk can see visitors enter the gate after they sign in, Lynch said.

The board didn’t decide how and when footage would be monitored for the district-wide system, but Lynch did note that not all of the district’s safety measures would be made known publicly.

“We share a lot of our security measures that we’re putting in, but there are some measures we will not share,” she said. “We do not publicly want to say what we’re doing to protect children at all times so that if someone wants to do harm, they know exactly what our plan is.”

District staff has met with staff from area school districts for more information and suggestions regarding such a security camera system. In a meeting early April 3, Lynch learned from Tom Bennett, the head of schools at Santa Fe Christian Schools, that the Solana Beach-based campus captures the license plates of every car that enters and exits the parking lot with their system.

Staff plans to bring the winning bid to the board for approval in May so that the cameras could be installed over the summer.

Further emphasizing student safety, in April, Play It Safe Defense will hold assemblies at every district school, as well as the Solana Beach Child Development Center.

The board ratified a $2,250 contract with the San Diego-based company, which offers programs designed to teach children the importance of awareness and appropriate boundaries through role-play. Two educational meetings for district parents will also be held at Skyline and Solana Pacific schools. Sheriff’s officials will also be in attendance at the student presentations and parent meetings, Lynch said.

“It’s a fantastic program,” said board member Julie Union, whose daughters have participated in the program.

In addition to a temporary security guard, new fencing, safety assemblies and a potential video camera system, the district is looking at other ways to enhance security at Skyline and its other schools.

Some board members suggested reconfiguring the main lobbies at schools so that front office personnel can easily see the campus entrances. Such a project could be funded by a general obligation bond, which the district is currently exploring whether to place on the ballot in 2016. Board members also suggested establishing a committee, which would include parent representatives, to explore safety procedures.

“The focus right now is on one school; we want to make sure we reach them all,” Schade said.

Sheriff’s crime prevention specialists Gary Rivers and Jonathan Simon recently toured Skyline and complied a list of recommended security measures for the site. The district plans to have the specialists tour the rest of the school sites as well.

They recommended installing mirrors in dark or secluded areas and trimming shrubs to increase visibility, among several other suggestions.

During the meeting Rivers emphasized the need for a single access point to Skyline, which the district is ensuring by temporarily blocking all access points until permanent fencing is installed.

“Having one site where everyone comes on campus and leaves is a good idea,” said Rivers who pointed to Stone Ranch Elementary School and Del Norte High School in 4S Ranch as good examples of secured school sites.

The board also heard from parents, who reiterated some of the safety protocols the district is implementing or considering.

Speaking on behalf of a group of parents who compiled a list of suggestions, Colleen Curtin asked the district to make all exterior fences at least 6 feet high, install security cameras at all schools, reconfigure school lobbies and implement buzzer systems.

“I would like to thank the board and the district for taking prompt and successful efforts to alleviate the situation over the past few weeks,” said Curtin, whose children attend Carmel Creek and Solana Santa Fe elementary schools. “Thank you in advance for giving thoughtful consideration to these additional safety measures and for doing everything we can to keep our children safe.”

The district has received some complaints from parents and community members about new safety protocols, such as closing the back gates.

At Skyline, for example, staff, parents and community members have gone from having a number of access points to the school to just one — including the school field, which is open to sports organizations. Although more access may have been more convenient for the adults, Lynch said student safety is the district’s top priority.

“What we have to do is make sure that we limit access to our campuses so that there are a couple places we can monitor and see who’s coming on, rather than numerous access points,” she said. “Our focus needs to be on keeping our kids safe. That means that we all need to adjust.”

Despite some complaints, the community, for the most part, has been overwhelming supportive about the district’s beefed-up security measures, she noted.

“I think our community really understands what we are trying to do,” Lynch said.