CENTRAL VALLEY — Proposals that schools be locked and loaded got little local support Sunday. But parents are taking a closer look at what is in place to protect their children.
The deadly Dec. 14 shooting at an elementary school in Connecticut prompted calls to expand mental health services and ban semi-automatic guns.
On Friday, the National Rifle Association returned fire.
"The truth is that our society is populated by an unknown number of genuine monsters people so deranged, so evil, so possessed by voices and driven by demons that no sane person can possibly ever comprehend them," NRA officer Wayne LaPierre said. He noted that armed guards protect banks, airports and elected officials, questioning why schools don't do the same.
"The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun," LaPierre said, calling on Congress to put armed police officers in every school in the country.
Turlock mom Lori Hooper said Sunday an armed guard would make her feel better. She wants more security at Medeiros Elementary School, where her 8-year-old attends.
After the tragedy, Hooper said, she couldn't sleep worrying about her daughter's school.
"There's no fences. There's nobody monitoring. There's nobody watching," she said.
Her husband, who is "a deputy in a local agency" she refused to name, slipped onto campus Tuesday, videotaping security issues and trying classroom doors before a passing employee asked if he needed help. Hooper said he identified himself as a parent and was left to continue his walk.
The couple brought their concerns to the principal and, dissatisfied with her response, took their child out of school for the remainder of the week. Hooper has not decided if they'll be back.
"If the government is requiring these kids to attend school, then they should be doing everything possible to protect them," she said, adding that her husband was disciplined after the school district told his employer about the incident.
Turlock Unified School District Superintendent Sonny Da Marto said armed police officers are on duty at Turlock and Pitman high schools, with campus supervisors and staff watching over the rest.
"We cannot live our lives in fear and we must not teach our children to live in fear," Da Marto said. But the district plans to have Turlock police and fire personnel walk its campuses with TUSD staff, looking for ways to improve safety.
Hughson Unified School District Superintendent Brian Beck said he is convening a community group to do the same.
Modesto City Schools has hired an expert to look over the district's 34 campuses and the district office, Superintendent Pam Able said. The district has five Modesto police officers rotating between its seven large high schools and one at Elliott alternative high school full time. Officers make a point to stop by campuses in neighborhoods prone to violence to interact with kids at lunch or recess.
A Ripon police officer serves Ripon High School, Ripon Unified School District Superintendent Louisa Johnson said. Police responded to an unspecified concern Dec. 14 at an elementary school, resolving it "in short order," Johnson said.
What usually brings police to elementary campuses, Ceres Unified School District Superintendent Scott Siegel said, are custody disputes and other family problems.
"(Violence) isn't just a school issue," he said. "The nation needs to have a very responsible discussion about what can be done."
Campus officers costly
In Ceres Unified, police officers rotate between its two high schools, continuation school and junior highs, with the district and city splitting the cost.
At Orestimba High School, the district dropped an administrator rather than cut the single Newman police officer protecting its campuses, Newman-Crows Landing Unified School District Superintendent Ed Felt said.
Based on a survey of about 300 school districts taken in July, the nonprofit EdSource estimated that
52 percent of the state's high schools, 16 percent of middle schools and 5 percent of elementary schools have police or resource officers. Stockton Unified has its own police department, one of 15 such agencies in the state.
The National Association of School Resource Officers estimates that it costs $80,000 to $100,000 per officer per school each year. For an armed guard at all of California's 10,221 public schools, the price tag would be $818 million a year at the low end.
In the Sylvan district in north Modesto, Superintendent John Halverson said budget cuts took away the resource officers at elementary and middle schools.
"They were a great support in many ways," Halverson said. "They did so much more than carry guns."
The Patterson Unified School District contracts with the Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department for one school resource officer at a cost of $90,000 a year, said Superintendent Phil Alfano.
"Regardless of one's position on Second Amendment gun rights and the NRA's proposal, asking financially strapped school districts to cover the cost of providing additional personnel is not practical public policy," he said.
None of the superintendents contacted saw arming teachers as a serious option. One shuddered at the thought of loaded weapons in a kindergarten class.
Bee education reporter Nan Austin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2339, and on Twitter, @NanAustin.