On Campus

On Campus: Schools beef up safety measures

naustin@modbee.comDecember 11, 2013 

    alternate textNan Austin
    Title: Education reporter
    Coverage areas: K-12 education, Yosemite Community College District
    Bio: Nan Austin has been a copy editor and reporter at The Modesto Bee for 24 years. She has an economics degree from CSU Stanislaus and previously worked at the Merced Sun-Star and Turlock Journal.
    Recent stories written by Nan
    On Twitter: @nanaustin
    E-mail: naustin@modbee.com

Since the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre a year ago, schools across the country have scrambled to improve school safety.

After consulting with police departments and security experts, most districts beefed up school grounds with more fencing, security cameras and classroom locks that secure from the inside for lockdowns. The school atmosphere for visitors has changed from, “Gee, we hate to bother you, but could you please check in,” to a clear cut, explain-your-business approach.

At Rose Avenue Elementary, Principal Diane Scott said she’s seen a shift in visitor expectations to match. “The biggest change I have seen over the past year is a better understanding of most parents as we enforce safety measures. Requiring every visitor to come to the office and not wait by the classroom doors was a bit of a challenge but accepted,” Scott said.

“Parents have expressed appreciation for the extra efforts we have made; such as asking for identification before allowing them on campus. We are more cautious when someone calls and wants information about their child’s attendance or other inquiries, we are sure to verify their identity,” she said.

In Texas, ideas of arming school employees with stun guns or firearms gained traction. More campuses have police officers, though California schools have struggled to come up with funding.

Modesto police and Modesto City Schools got a grant for eight new school resource officers, but the $1.9 million in local matching funds were beyond what the city could pay. A further requirement that the MPD not reduce its force for the duration of the grant appears to have torpedoed the whole effort.

Modesto City Schools already pays for four veteran school resource officers, who will continue to be a presence across the district’s eight high schools.

Across the large Modesto City Schools district, procedures were standardized so whenever a need arises, every staff member and student knows the drill.

“A student who transfers from one school to another would know the signals and procedures for every emergency, as do employees who work at various sites, etc. That to me is a huge and very positive change,” Scott said.

But beyond the worry over flying bullets, school communities seem ready to acknowledge there are far more commonplace dangers children face – things such as domestic violence, gang problems and bullying.

“Programs such as Peacebuilders remind students every day that they have a responsibility for making their life and the lives of others around them safe and peaceful,” Scott said. Every morning, along with the Pledge of Allegiance, her students recite this:

“I am a Rose Avenue Peacebuilder. I pledge to praise people, to give up put-downs, to seek wise people, to notice and speak up about hurts I have caused, to right wrongs, to help others. I will build peace at home, at school and in my community each day.”

The Peacebuilder program is in place across the Modesto district.

In Turlock, identification badges have been required for all junior high and high school students this year, just as all staff members wear. “We all know that this will not prohibit an active shooter from accessing our campus; however, it certainly makes it easier for us to know who should be on our campuses,” said Turlock Unified Superintendent Sonny Da Marto.

Da Marto said the badges are part of creating “a culture of safety awareness” on campuses. “Folks who do not appear to belong on our campuses are readily approached by staff and are directed appropriately to the office for check in or off of the campus. Anything out of the ordinary is appropriately reported and looked into,” he said.

He’s also looking into more fencing, but the bottom line is a good working relationship with Turlock police, he said.

With Saturday’s somber anniversary approaching, I took a look at the worst risks endangering our kids, checking the most recent National Vital Statistics Reports of 2011.

It turns out the top killer of all school-age children is motor vehicle accidents. We all need to pay better attention when driving, and acknowledge texting or drinking drivers for the real and present dangers they pose.

Next come other types of accidents. The third most common cause of death for teens and young adults – suicide. There were 4,688 self-caused deaths among 15- to 24-year-olds in 2011. I guess we all need to pay more attention to quiet suffering, and see abusive behavior for the danger it poses.

For that age group, murder – back to the bullets flying – was number four, followed by cancer and heart disease.

Among children 5 to 14 years old, cancer was number three, followed by birth defects, then suicide, murder and heart disease.

Bee education reporter Nan Austin can be reached at naustin@modbee.com or (209) 578-2339. Follow her on Twitter @NanAustin.

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