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MDUSD reassures parents about school safety in wake of the Connecticut shootings and anonymous phone threat at Sequoia Middle School

By Theresa Harrington
Monday, December 17th, 2012 at 7:29 pm in Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Pleasant Hill.

Northgate High students remembered victims the week after horrible shooting in Connecticut.

The horrific shooting that left 27 dead in Newton, Conn. last Friday has prompted many school and state leaders to reassure parents and the public about safety procedures in local schools.

Mt. Diablo school Superintendent Steven Lawrence sent an automated message to parents Friday informing them that district schools would review their safety plans and ensure that classroom doors are locked during the day: https://asp.schoolmessenger.com/m/?s=sezpPJxG5-g.

Three days later, the district’s safety plans were put to the test, when Sequoia Middle School in Pleasant Hill received an anonymous call at 10 a.m. Monday from someone who said: “You’re next.”

Both Sequoia Middle School and Sequoia Elementary, which is next door on Boyd Road, immediately went into lockdown, along with the elementary campus day care center. Pleasant Hill police responded and the superintendent came to the site, where no threat was found. The lockdown was lifted around 10:30 a.m.

Here is the message sent to Sequoia Elementary parents by Principal David Franklin: https://asp.schoolmessenger.com/m/?s=EPbWiAwLdQo.

Early this evening, Lawrence sent out the following automated message to all parents in the district about the incident: https://asp.schoolmessenger.com/m/?s=bLHpiNpNmrg

Karen Booth, president of Sequoia Middle School’s Parent Faculty Club, said she felt anxious after hearing about the threat and kept looking at the clock every half-hour because she wanted to pick up her kids, who are in the sixth and eighth grades. But, she said the superintendent’s message Friday was reassuring, especially since many parents don’t know their schools have safety plans.

“I like to think that cooler heads prevail when people are feeling anxious and upset,” she said. “I want to be one of those cooler heads and I feel like I need to model that for my kids.”

Today at Northgate High in Walnut Creek, the school community honored the memory of students killed in Connecticut with this message: “Remember Sandy Hook Elementary.”

Here is a link to guidance for teachers and parents to help children cope with national tragedies from the National Association of School Psychologists: http://www.nasponline.org/resources/crisis_safety/terror_general.aspx

Do you believe your students are safe at local schools?

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  • Alicia

    Unfortunately, we live in an environment where we cannot promise children that they will always be safe at school.

    Although the schools may have safety plans in place, there is lots of room for improvement. Perhaps we should use some of the 2010 Measure C money to install robust surveillance and security systems at each school. With all the “savings” from Solar, we should employ at least one security guard at each school, and install metal detectors at the high schools.

    Lastly, MDUSD should contract with a third-party service provider to conduct annual background checks of its employees.

  • Doctor J

    Sandy Hook was a “sealed campus” with just one controlled entrance; electronic access granted with video surveilance at the entrance. How many of our campuses are “single access” ? Most are multiple access and available for access without permission throughout the day. We feel “safer” because we ask visitors to register at the office — but really anyone who wants to do harm, or steal, will not be polite enough to “register” — they just enter and who will bounce them from the campus ? How many thefts occur during the school day from classrooms and offices left unattended ? In my opinion, our schools security DURING SCHOOL HOURS leaves much to be desired. Dent seems more interested in protecting property than children.

  • Giorgio C.

    In Hercules (WCCUSD), we had an incident with a woman who had fired a gun in a subdivision, then drove to an elementary school, threatening folks with the gun, and hitting 2 individuals with her car.

    It is reported here.
    http://pinole-hercules.patch.com/articles/hercules-woman-arrested-for-bedford-court-shooting

    The district had cut funding for paid staff to assist with the drop-off routine, so volunteers are used. It always comes down to funding.

  • Doctor J

    Schools are REQUIRED BY LAW to review their school safety plans by March 1 of each year and report the review on the SARC — check your school SARC for the last review. The biggest problem in MDUSD is we had a bunch of new principals hired after the school safety plans were reviewed. Here are a few excerpts from the CDE website. School Safety Plan Legal Requirements
    EC Section 32286 (a) and (b) EC sections 33126 and 35256
    The date on which the school safety plan was last reviewed, updated, and discussed with school faculty, as well as a brief description of the key elements included in the plan. Schools shall review and update the comprehensive school safety plan by March 1 of each year. Every July each school shall report on the status of its school safety plan, including a description of its key elements in the annual SARC prepared pursuant to EC sections 33126 and 35256.
    Safe Schools: A Planning Guide for Action, 2002 Edition provides a two-component model and step-by-step guidance for schools to develop a comprehensive safe school plan. It also reviews the legal requirements and the benefits of safety planning to help schools annually revise and amend their safe school plan.
    I took a look at just one SARC — Sun Terrace. Horribly out of date: says was published 2011-12 using data from 2010-11. Gretchen Jacobs is listed as Principal. Under Section III, the last school safety plan was “School Year 2010-11″. Did not list the last date it was reviewed and instead had a generic statement that it is reviewed “every year”. Doesn’t exactly make one feel comfortable knowing what went on at Sun Terrace last year. http://www.mdusd.org/Departments/rande/Documents/2010%20-%202011%20SARC/ELEMENTARY/Sun%20Terrace.html

  • Doctor J

    You, the public, are entitled to review the school safety plan WITHOUT NOTICE at any time — the law requires the school to have all school safety plans “readily available for inspection by the public.” Ed Code 32282 (e). Theresa may want to try this out, and see if the schools will comply with the Ed Code. Here is a primer on school safety plans. http://www.calprima.org/cal/uploads/CSSP.pdf

  • Doctor J

    Contrary to Theresa’s interpretation, Steven Lawrence did not ‘ORDER’ nor ‘DIRECT’ that classrooms be locked — it was just a “best practices suggestion”. While I agree with the suggestion, apparently not all schools or administrators did.

  • Theresa Harrington

    I am hearing rumors that some schools have “Columbine locks,” which allow teachers to lock their doors from the inside with a key, while others do not. At some schools, teachers must OPEN the doors to lock them from OUTSIDE.
    With $348 million in Measure C money, why don’t ALL schools have doors that can be locked with a key from the inside? Why were solar panels at every school a higher priority than this?

  • Doctor J

    At Sandy Hook the “lockdown” broadcast apparently wasn’t fully sent since it was a manual system that required a human broadcast voice over the intercom — which was left “open” when staff was shot — all classrooms heard the shots. In otherwords, it takes more than someone pressing a button — but a human voice announcing the lockdown. I am sure there are different systems, some with horn sounding devices like a fire alarm. And of course, as Theresa points out, locks that can be activated from inside the classroom, or even automatically by the lockdown button, would all be available in modernization efforts.

  • Theresa Harrington

    Regarding the superintendent’s instructions to staff, it is my understanding they were “encouraged” to lock their doors.
    The board could certainly establish a policy about this, if it wants.

  • Hell Freezing Over

    I wanted to answer yes to Theresa’s question. Then I looked at the MDUSD.org site for documented school site safety plan. None to be found. I looked at 10 different school websites (randomly selected) searching for documented safety plans. None to be found.

    My place of employment has safety / disaster recovery plans documented and easily accessible to all employees and building support personnel. We have mandatory “classes” we must take online that also have an assessment to determine how prepared we are / our safety knowledge at our workplace. Each workplace has specific plans.

    1. Does the district site have a documented safety plan that addresses all types of issues (fire, earthquake, flooding, shelter in place, collapsed buildings/structures, bomb threats, armed intruders, kidnapping, hostage situation, gang violence, inappropriate teacher/school employee behavior, etc.)?

    2. Does each school site have documented safety plans showing safety procedures and evacuation routes and gathering places for each type of emergency? Are office staff, custodian/janitorial staff, kitchen staff, school site supervisors, parent volunteers trained on safety and emergency procedures? (note: when I volunteered for my children’s lunchtime parent patrols, I was never instructed on what to do in an emergency or provided safety procedures when I signed up).

    If yes to 1 & 2 above, where are these documents / plans located? Are they available online? Where? Can someone proved links? If not available online, why not?

    Do all schools have security cameras / systems in place? Are those adequate?

    Do schools practice / drill for emergencies anymore? What type of drills and how often? who in the district would be in charge / responsible for scheduling and rating the drills? Who is responsible for ensuring updates are made to safety plans based on the drills?

    The Sandy Hook unthinkable tragedy is our wake up call.

  • Doctor J

    @HFO#10. Please refer to my posts #’s 4 and 5 above.

  • Doctor J

    Board Policy 0450 says, among other things, “The principal or designee shall ensure that an updated file of all safety-related plans and materials is readily available for inspection by the public. (Education Code 35294.2)”

  • Doctor J

    Baldwin Park “lockdown procedures” are “online”. http://www.bpace.k12.ca.us/images/Lockdown%20Procedures.pdf

  • Theresa Harrington

    Here is a separate blog post with the guidance sent to Mt. Diablo district staff on Friday afternoon related to school safety: http://www.ibabuzz.com/onassignment/2012/12/18/mdusd-superintendent-gives-guidance-to-staff-in-wake-of-connecticut-shooting/

  • Brian Lawrence

    Since Friday, I’ve been asking the same questions as many of you.

    I’ve been informed that there is not a written, District-wide emergency plan. We need to create and implement one. It will be a top priority for me in the near term.

    The individual school plans are not currently online because it was deemed that the documents were too large. With more modern web technologies, they can now easily be put online. As a parent, I want to be able to find these things online- much preferred to receiving a paper copy that can easily be lost.

    During the CSBA conference, one of the sessions I attended was on social media. One district described how they used Twitter to communicate with the public after a school shooting. It allowed them to share information and knock down rumors. Additionally, we should look at using text messages as an additional way to share info with parents.

  • Giorgio C.

    Some notes from my 3 years teaching at a WCCUSD school:
    1. Too many blind spots, places for kids to hide, or sadly, for a girl to be brutally attacked-raped. Problem possibly now resolved with cameras. What took them so long?

    2. Poor communication system for classrooms on the outer perimeter. By the time the police arrived, they were simply report-takers.

    3. Open campus–not uncommon to have trespassers with guns. This supposedly has since been corrected with gates.

    4. New teachers are often a weak link in the safety chain. High teacher turnover means less safe schools.

    5. A student was shot outside of the school, then died in the principal’s office. I was later told that the paramedics would not enter the area until given the all-clear from the cops. It was a drive-by. The perps were long gone. The coast was clear. This is one area where planning could be improved if not yet done.

    6. Teachers often reported troubled students, yet reports were not always acted on. In one case, my evaluation request was “lost.” When I first reported my concerns regarding this student, I was told “You can’t save them all.” The student then showed up to school with a loaded gun.

    7. Administrators need to support teachers with respect to discipline. Students allowed to act up are a distraction. A distracted teacher is not able to provide a safe environment. I personally witnessed harm being done to students as a result of such distractions.

    8. Violent students need to be placed in a proper institution, not just punted to another school. In one case, the student who was transferred, later killed 2 teens, and seriously injured a third. One of the fatalities was an honor student. I was told that I just needed to take the time to understand this violent “kid”, that he was a good kid.

    Listen to the teachers. Sometimes they know something.

  • Wait a Minute

    Yes Giorgio,

    It is very sad to here about schools that are unsafe because school and district administrators don’t listen to teachers about potentially dangerous students.

    I am of the firm opinion that in any school where teachers and students don’t feel safe the potential learning is greatly depressed.

    Las year when we kept hearing about Mt. Diablo HS and other schools in the MDUSD where staff in particular didn’t feel safe I’m sure their learning and test scores were depressed as a result.

    And no, locking the bathrooms because of problems is not the solution Kate McClatchy and in fact is illegal.

    By the way, when I talked to people in Stevie Lawrence and Sue Brothers last district in West Sacramento i heard multiple times about how unsafe that district had become under their so-called “leadership”.

    They had their comprehensive HS principal seriously injured in a riot and their alternative HS was out of control with several students and staff injured in multiple 911 called incidents.

    If we do anything right in education it has to be hiring real leaders that have proven track records at running safe and disciplined schools with up to date and regularly practiced safety plans.

  • Giorgio C.

    Last night, I attended the WCCUSD “How would you like us to spend your parcel tax dollars?” workshop.

    At this meeting, a young woman emotionally pleaded for some help with a problem regarding her son who attends Mira Vista Elementary School in Richmond. She said that he has some severe allergies, being at risk for anaphylaxis, thus carries an epi-pen. The mother was told by the school principal that none of her son’s teachers were trained to administer the epi-pen.

    At the conclusion of the meeting, a nurse appeared. It isn’t clear if she had been there for the entire meeting or if she had been summoned by the Superintendent. She met with the mother and told her there was some sort of procedure in place to ensure that this woman’s son gets the help he needs.

    A mother with a medical concern had to come to a board meeting to get the attention she needs for her son’s medical condition. This is a new principal. That principal should have had the answers pronto.