San Diego's plan to keep schools safe in 'active shooter' event
Speaker 1: (00:00)
Most students and educators say they're happy to be back to in-person school again, but COVID-19 precautions are apparently not the only safety measures that need to be in place this past August and September have seen the highest number of gunfire incidents on school grounds. Now that's according to the nonprofit, every town for gun safety group, which began tracking school shootings in 2013, yesterday for students in Arlington, Texas, or hospitalized after being shot by a fellow student. And there was a lockdown at an elementary school in city Heights Wednesday morning because of a shooting nearby KPBS education reporter mg Perez is here to talk about local efforts to keep our schools safe and welcome mg. Good to be here. First of all, what happened yesterday at the elementary school in city Heights?
Speaker 2: (00:50)
Well, as you mentioned, there was a shooting, a few blocks away from the school at Rosa parks elementary. Uh, so there was never a direct threat to the school, but because of the closeness of the shooting, they locked down the school. Uh, at this point at last report, the suspect is still not been caught by San Diego police. Uh, and a couple of hours later, they were able to, uh, open up the school and release kids. It was early dismissal yesterday.
Speaker 1: (01:17)
So before the pandemic San Diego was working to address the threat of school shootings, can you give us some background on those efforts?
Speaker 2: (01:25)
Yeah, the San Diego county grand jury that was seated in 2018, took upon itself an investigation, a review of just how prepared, uh, schools and school districts across the county are in the case of an active shooter. Uh, that investigation went on for several months and at the completion of it in 2019, the grand jury had several recommendations, uh, that were made for all schools across the county. That would be not only public, but private and charter schools. Uh, and that was kind of the template if you will, uh, to try to move forward in, uh, in attacking this problem and what
Speaker 1: (02:05)
Were some of those recommendations?
Speaker 2: (02:07)
Well, of course it's all about money, Maureen. And the first recommendation was to specifically target money for training, for infrastructure, uh, on school campuses, uh, where there might be doors that needed to be reinforced or locked or, uh, shut down altogether. Those kinds of things. Something else that was very interesting is there was a concerted mention of substitute teachers. Now, uh, substitutes are our student or teachers rather that come on campus at often at last minutes notice and don't receive the special training that, uh, certified staff do. And so, uh, the recommendation was that, uh, the districts take specific action in training, the substitute teachers that are part of their employment base.
Speaker 1: (02:55)
Now the report also singled out Torrey Pines, high school security efforts. And what has that school been doing
Speaker 2: (03:02)
Well, uh, at the time of the investigation or the review in 2019, uh, Torrey Pines was a pilot program where they had installed security cameras throughout the campus. Uh, that was back in 2019. I spoke with a representative from the district yesterday who said it was so successful. They have put the cameras in all of their campuses across that district.
Speaker 1: (03:27)
You talk about this happening in 2019. Is it fair to assume that most or perhaps all of this school safety preparation stopped during the pandemic?
Speaker 2: (03:38)
Surprisingly, no, because of zoom, uh, we all survived on zoom and I spoke with, uh, security experts yesterday who said trainings were able to go on through zoom. So as much information as was possible to, uh, to distribute through a zoom training or a zoom call, uh, that did continue. But obviously there was no in-person training
Speaker 1: (04:04)
Some school officials around the country who are concerned about the pandemic's effects on the mental health of troubled students, combined with an increase in gun sales during the pandemic. Can you tell us about those concerns?
Speaker 2: (04:17)
Well, it comes down to good mental health and there are already people in our community. They're already young people, students who are suffering from mental health issues, but also the pandemic of course amplified all of that. The isolation, the, uh, non connection with, uh, fellow classmates and so forth. So the real concern is that mental health should be the priority in dealing with this problem. Uh, often an active shooter has come to the place that they have come to because of issues that they were not able to resolve. And, uh, the belief is that with counseling, with, uh, preemptive measures, uh, we can avoid these kinds of incidents from happening on campuses across the county.
Speaker 1: (05:05)
Now that schools are up and running, will we see a return of active shooter drills, or are there other strategies that are less disturbing for students?
Speaker 2: (05:14)
Well, the drills are already in process. Uh, that was something that did not require a lot of money as a former teacher, uh, working at several different campuses. I experienced some of these active shooter drills, and basically what it comes down to is there's an alarm sounded, doors are locked, windows are covered, and students are told to get under their desk and remain quiet. That's the extent of the drills to this point, but of course, as things progress and as, uh, programs and training increase, uh, that could go to a different level. But for now that's the basis of what they're using for something that they call an active shooter drill.
Speaker 1: (05:54)
I've been speaking with KPBS education, reporter, mg Perez, Andrea as always. Thank you very much.
Speaker 2: (06:00)
Rosa Parks Elementary School in City Heights was put into lockdown Wednesday morning as San Diego Police looked for an active shooter just blocks away. Parents waited outside the school for an all-clear, which, in fact, came just in time for the regular noon dismissal of students.
Corayma Campuzano had two children in the school.
“I just waited until a teacher said it was clear and went straight to the front door," she said. “The shooting happened outside but what if someone was crazy and would go into the school with a gun?”
That did not happen. All students and staff were safe and no one was harmed.
A return to in-person learning at schools across San Diego County renews the possibility of a violent threat on campuses. Before the pandemic, San Diego County officials were already at work on a new safety plan.
The San Diego County Grand Jury seated in 2018 conducted a review of school preparedness in cases of active shooters. In 2019, the Grand Jury released a report with several recommendations.
Among the recommendations: A proposal to increase funding in school budgets for training, equipment and infrastructure improvements to handle an active shooter crisis for staff and student safety. They also included a directive to conduct active shooter drills with staff that produce “immediacy” of response based on the school’s approved safety plan.
The review discovered a need to make sure substitute teachers and all other adult workers receive the same training and practice provided to regular staff on active shooter awareness and response.
The report highlighted a pilot program at Torrey Pines High School, which installed a specialized camera security system. The San Dieguito Union High School District has since installed the system on its other 9-campuses. Many of the other 42-districts and charter and private schools across the county have followed suit with infrastructure improvements and safety drills.
Tim Ware is the School Safety Coordinator for the San Diego County Office of Education and he has worked on implementing many of the Grand Jury’s recommendations.
“Right now" he said, "we have about half of our districts sending teams to our training as it relates, not only to the school shooting piece but also concerning behaviors that lead up to something like that happening.”
Ware said increased support for mental health services is also a priority for the county as it continues to train teachers and staff members.