Schools across the country are having discussions about school safety and school culture following the tragic shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Ensuring that campuses remain a safe place has become a priority and concerns have escalated locally as authorities have responded to at least 17 threats to high schools around San Diego County since the Feb. 14 shooting in Parkland—in Carmel Valley, two teenagers were arrested for making two separate threats of violence at Torrey Pines High School and on March 5, a Canyon Crest Academy student was arrested for allegedly making a criminal threat. None of the threats were determined to be credible.
As Canyon Crest Academy Principal Brett Killeen prepared to have the discussion on safety at his school, he turned to his Raven Advisory Board, made up of high school students.
“As adults we all talk about what we can do better to make our campus safer but we also need the students’ voices on how to make the campus safer,” Killeen said.
Killeen created the Raven Advisory Board this year as he wanted a representative group of students to connect with periodically and get their input on a variety of issues. The group is a cross-section of students from each grade level, students recommended by teachers as great candidates to be a sounding board for the principal.
Tracy Yates, who leads the school’s Wellness Committee, helped put the group together and they have met four times this school year, focusing on CCA’s vision and values as the school continues to grow.
On Feb. 23, the discussion centered on safety and culture. Killeen asked the group to brainstorm on two topics: “Things students would like us to do to make you feel safer” and “What do you not want us to do?”
“With respect to active shooter drills, they want us to be careful about how we do it so we don’t freak people out,” Killeen said. “They are perfectly fine with seeing more closed gates but they don’t want us to close campus as juniors and seniors enjoy being able to leave campus for lunch.”
“They also put ‘No arming teachers.’ They were pretty adamant about that. They don’t think that’s a great idea.”
As far as things the school could do, students said that everyone should be made aware there is a psychologist available for students on campus and preferred “short conversations” about plans for active shooters or campus lockdowns.
Killeen said CCA, like all San Dieguito Union High School District schools, has an emergency response plan in place and staff received additional safety training from the San Diego Police Department last week. What he heard from the students is a need for some caution in regard to educating students about these scary situations.
A link on the school’s home page leads to various support services available for students such as a crisis hotline, suicide prevention, grief assistance and anxiety helpers but students suggested more awareness for those kinds of resources through assemblies and programs.
As the topic is so important, Killeen said he planned to have the same discussions with his Associated Student Body leadership and Peer Assisted Listeners groups to get more student input in the coming week.
“I think the kids want us to strike a balance between a school that they love and is inclusive and feels safe with practical things to make it physically safer but not taking away something that they feel is working for them,” Killeen said. “They want some freedoms.”
In just his second year at CCA, Killeen said he is interested in community and students’ opinions before he launches into any solutions.
“They always impress me,” Killeen said of his students. “I love working with students and hearing what they have to say.”
DMUSD has placed strong emphasis on safety
Last week, members of the Del Mar Union School District (DMUSD) met with representatives from Sandy Hook Promise, a nonprofit founded by those who lost family members in the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. DMUSD President Kristin Gibson said the organization “stays out of politics”— it is silent on gun control but offers free programs to schools that help build inclusive climates where kids feel connected and trains teachers and older students to look for the signs of potential violence.
“Statistically speaking we know our schools are really safe places and I’m very confident that we have excellent policies and protocols in place,” said Gibson at the Feb. 28 board meeting.
That said, Gibson noted that she has walked on several campuses where a teacher or child has died a violent death—she attended Sandy Hook Elementary as a second and third grader and was a graduate student at San Diego State University when three professors were shot and killed by a student in 1996, one of them the father of the flower girl in her wedding.
“I do believe that there are things that we can do to prevent these incidents, maybe not 100 percent but certainly to decrease their prevalence,” Gibson said.
Sandy Hook Promise offers some solutions and programs she hopes schools will consider implementing such as safety assessment and intervention and “Start With Hello,” a middle school program that stresses the importance of inclusion and the tragic results that can result when people are excluded.
Board member Doug Rafner said the desire to make DMUSD’s campuses physically safer began years ago when there was an intruder on the Ashley Falls campus. It sparked the need for a district-wide fencing projects—all DMUSD campuses now are completely fenced with one entry and exit point.
“We have done that and we’re still meeting with people to increase whatever we can do because I think vigilance and awareness is a way to fight this,” Rafner said.
In addition to perimeter fencing and the single point entry, every visitor to a DMUSD school is checked in and scanned against a national database.
“We have really focused a lot in recent years on safety,” said Superintendent Holly McClurg, noting the district has a very strong partnership with San Diego Police Department. Each school has its own safety plan and the schools drill for fire, earthquake and lockdown situations.
Additionally the district’s leadership team was trained on options-based response which is specific to active shooter events. The training was recommended by the Department of Homeland Security and the plan is for all district staff to be trained
“I accentuate staff members. We train our staff members what to do, our children are children, they come to school, they should feel safe,” McClurg said. “We are training our staff members what to do so that they know what to do in that type of situation. Our children just need to know that they show up at school and we’ll take really good care of them.”
Rafner acknowledged what the Parkland students are doing as a community is a positive method of trying to effect change and raise awareness.
“We have younger kids, but I think no less desirous of making change,” Rafner said. “I leave it to our teachers and our parents to keep them educated to the point that they can be as eloquent as the ones that are stepping up in Florida because, after all, it’s their world to take over someday.”