As a new school year is set to begin, safety in schools is a topic at the forefront of many people’s minds. In its efforts to promote student safety, wellness and connectedness, the San Dieguito Union High School District (SDUHSD) is partnering with Sandy Hook Promise, a national nonprofit committed to providing research-based programs and practices to help protect children from gun violence.
At the Aug. 16 board meeting, SDUHSD Associate Superintendent of Administrative Services Mark Miller said the district will enter into a three-year memorandum of understanding with Sandy Hook Promise to offer its programs at no cost to the district, including their “Say Something” initiative and an anonymous reporting system.
Sandy Hook Promise was established two days after the Dec. 14, 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, in which 20 first grade children and six adult staff members were killed on campus.
“Our organization is focused on prevention, we are not a gun control organization,” said founder and managing director Tim Makris, father of a then-fourth grader at Sandy Hook on Dec. 14. “We focus on how to identify individuals who may be at risk of hurting themselves or others and teaching the people around them to intervene and be of help for them.”
Since 2012, the organization has trained 3.5 million kids on recognizing the signs and signals of suicide or violent acts and how to be more inclusive and connected to one another. Makris said Sandy Hook Promise is exploding in growth—estimating training 3 million kids just in this upcoming school year alone.
Sandy Hook Promise is also involved in policy work, helping to get the STOP School Violence Act passed in congress this year— a 10-year, $100 million a year federal grant for states and municipalities to use on these types of programs.
At SDUHSD, Sandy Hook will drill down on the “Say Something” program and anonymous reporting, particularly on social media platforms. Sandy Hook Promise has focused on the fact that over the last 25 years, research has shown that in seven out of 10 acts of gun violence, someone was told that an act of violence would be committed or may take place. In one study, it was reported that in four out of five school shootings, the attacker had told people of their plans ahead of time.
Sandy Hook’s “Say Something” program helps provide tools and practices for students, teachers, staff members and parents to recognize a potential threat and reinforce the need to speak up.
“It’s important to empower kids to look out for one another,” Makris said, noting that Sandy Hook Promise requires that a school club be attached to the program.
Sandy Hook Promise will also offer SDUHSD anonymous reporting on three different platforms:students and parents will be able to use the app, website or call a 24-7 crisis line manned by counselors. The tips are triaged by the crisis center and the district will be made aware of immediate life-safety threats, Makris said.
“As a parent, thank you so much for bringing Sandy Hook Promise programs to the schools,” said Kristin Gibson, a candidate for the SDUHSD board during public comment. ”I am thrilled and grateful. I believe their programs are not only effective, they’re evidence-based.”
Gibson, the president of the Del Mar Union School District board, said she would like to see Sandy Hook Promise programs incorporated with fifth and sixth grade students in all of San Dieguito’s feeder districts, like Del Mar.
Miller said he hopes to bring back the memorandum of understanding for board approval at the September meeting and begin working this fall to identify school clubs that would be a match for the program and begin training students, staff and parents. The district is aiming for a January 2019 rollout.
“Districts that have rushed it have not been successful,” Miller said. “We need everybody on board and everybody trained and speaking that same language.”
During public comment, SDUHSD board candidate Lea Wolf said she was concerned about the program’s focus on social media. Over the last several months, Wolf has spoken up about students’ rights and the district’s “harsh” punishment of students for threats made on social media.
“Social media can be really not a reliable source sometimes to take action. We have seen it in some of the cases in this district where we reacted and really traumatized the kids, reacting too fast when the kid just made an innocent or silly mistake or comment,” Wolf said. “My appeal to this board is to really take ownership and say where you have failed in your training or educating these students in their phrases or comments.”
SDUHSD Interim Superintendent Larry Perondi said he wanted to assure all parents that the district and administrative teams clearly understand that safety is their highest priority. Perondi’s recommended new ad-hoc safety and wellness committee held its first meeting on Aug. 20; the pilot security camera system has been installed at Torrey Pines High School; work continues on fencing projects; and visitor management systems have been installed at all campuses.
Starting with the 2018-19 school year, the back of all San Dieguito students’ identification cards will have contact information for anonymous crime tip lines as well as suicide prevention and crisis hotlines.
In February, State Senator Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge) introduced legislation which would require all 7-12 public schools that issue ID cards to have the numbers for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, the Crisis Text Line and a local suicide prevention hotline telephone number printed on the card. The bill passed in the Assembly and is currently at the State Senate—if it passes, the law would go into effect in July 2019.
Addressing Wolf’s comment, Perondi said they will stress both in classrooms and assemblies this year that “words have meaning”, to help students understand what words are not to be used and that even some words said in jest will be taken seriously.
During public comment parent Amy Flicker, a candidate for the SDUHSD board, wanted to ensure that when school safety action plans are being devised that the district includes special education and English language learners as they might need more assistance in the case of emergencies. She also advocated for a better parent notification system.
“We all understand that you are constrained by legalese but as things are now, social media is really how parents are finding out about the welfare of our children and that has to change,” Flicker said.
Parent Heather Dugdale complimented the district for taking a “comprehensive” approach to safety and wellness.
“Fences, armed security and other physical barriers will never combat hate and will not in the long run make our children safer,” Dugdale said. “Only love, kindness and compassion can do that and I’m so happy to have Sandy Hook Promise that can enhance our already existing wellness initiatives.”
Visit sandyhookpromise.org for more information.