Winston School receives city approval to pursue fence application

Surveillance footage shows skaters on the Winston School campus.
Surveillance footage shows skaters on the Winston School campus.

The Winston School in Del Mar received approval from the Del Mar City Council to begin the permitting process for additional fencing, but also drew criticism for its allegations of a rise in trespassers on campus since schools closed due to COVID-19.

“For reasons I don’t understand, Winston put a lot of information out in the community that, to be candid, we can’t verify if it’s accurate,” Del Mar City Councilman Dwight Worden said during the council’s June 1 meeting.

Worden was referring to a claim by the school that there had been 24 recent calls to the sheriff’s department about alleged trespassing, vandalism, graffiti and related issues. He said there was only one recent report that the city had been made aware of by the sheriff’s department. In an email last week, City Manager C.J. Johnson said that report involved skateboarders on campus.

But a news release from the Winston School said there has been “a dramatic increase” of those types of incidents. A YouTube video posted by the school showed security camera footage of skaters on school property and one person spraying graffiti. The video also said “drug drops” were part of the issues on campus.

School officials also want to add the additional fencing as part of their plan to safely reopen and better control entry onto campus amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Multiple Winston teachers and other staff members sent form letters to the city expressing health and safety concerns that the fence would address.

“Managing our point of entry is critical to my staff returning to work, for my kids to return to school and for their parents to return to work,” Dena Harris, Winston’s head of school, said in a phone interview on Tuesday, June 2. “The vandalism is just an added stressor.”

Beginning this month, the school is starting to allow staff to return to campus. Depending on county guidelines, small groups of students could return to Winston as early as June 22, Harris said.

Harris also said there have been eyewitness accounts of issues including trespassing and vandalism from two school staff members who have remained on site, as well as the security camera footage and phone calls from nearby residents. She said furniture and equipment has been moved, and a dent was found in a wall, among other signs.

Robert Hajek, a resident who lives on Stratford Court near the Winston School, said in an email to the city that he has seen “many instances” of trespassing and skating on the school property.

Over the last two and a half months since schools closed, the sheriff’s department has received one call for service to the Winston School for trespassing, one for a group disturbance, one for a disturbance by juveniles and two for vandalism, records show. Calls for service do not always result in police reports. Sheriff’s deputies have also been dispatched to the school regularly for extra patrol.

The school owns its buildings, but the city of Del Mar owns the property and serves as the landlord. Council members approved the application for the fence 4-0. Councilman Dave Druker recused himself because he lives near the school.

There was no opposition to the fence by the city in the lead-up to the vote, but the Winston School disputed the process for obtaining city approval. To build the fence, the school needs an Administrative Design Review permit, which is required by the city for fences and other minor projects.

The City Council’s vote allows Johnson, as city manager and representative of the property owner, to sign the ADR application.

But Harris, who has been head of school since 2016, said the school never historically needed “pre-approval” from the city before pursuing a permit, and that the lease between the city and school gives the school autonomy to initiate these types of projects. She said the school initially asked for an emergency administrative review to try to expedite the application.

“Why are we complicating an already very well-established process?” she said.

Johnson said during Monday’s council meeting that applicants must obtain the property owner’s authorization to proceed if they do not own the property themselves. City Attorney Leslie Devaney said the lease between the city and school subjects the school to the city’s consent to begin permitting processes.

Johnson said via email that once the Winston School’s application is submitted, it will be able to move through the ADR process.

“If no concerns from the school’s neighbors are received and the project meets the City’s requirements then the application will be approved and the project can be built,” she said.