Three unspent .22 caliber bullets were found on the Thurston Middle School campus on Oct. 14. Afterward, a spent shell casing from a 45 mm bullet was found on the Laguna Beach High School campus. Although there was no immediate threat found after the Laguna Beach Police Department investigations of both campuses, the question of school safety has come to the forefront of the minds of students and parents.
“It is one of our primary goals to make students feel safe and comfortable while they are on campus. This ranges from everything from a crack in the sidewalk where a potential tripping hazard can happen to the worst-case scenario you can ever imagine as a student or teacher. We always have student safety and staff safety as a focal point of our interest,” said LBHS principal Dr. Jason Allemann.
The Laguna Beach Unified School District has many protocols and plans set in place for emergencies to help keep our school population safe, including a set lockdown plan, evacuation procedures and everything in between. All LBUSD schools practice safety drills for natural disasters and participate in events such as the Great Shakeout to help prepare students for times of emergency.
“I think there’s a fine line between awareness and practicing the drill, and overdoing it and increasing that fear and anxiety around it. I think going through and being clear about expectations and protocols about those drills and taking them seriously is important,” said LBHS assistant principal Dale Miller.
Student involvement in school safety is imperative. The administration has noted the importance of “see something, say something’’ multiple times, and they rely on student-relayed information to know how students are feeling.
“That is the most important component in school safety in general because the students are the ones that are constantly out conversing and dealing with one another,” said school resource officer Corporal Cornelius Ashton. “I found that our students know when something’s going on or when something’s not right. You have a responsibility to other students to speak up.”
Even beyond school hours, students are encouraged to reach out to administration via Text-a-Tip (858-848-7847).
In the past year, LBUSD has spent one million dollars on new safety precautions, adding all the suggestions made by the Orange County Intelligence Assessment Center. LBHS has installed new cameras that are being configured and integrated into the current system. The school is also in the process of updating the gates around campus.
“When our last fire marshal visit came, we walked the perimeter. The one thing that we had a concern about from the fire marshall was how we close our gates and how we chain them. When we chain and close our gates, it creates a safety issue because students can’t leave if they need to. For example, if a student was out walking the track, they would be able to leave campus quickly through the open gate. But, if the gates are chained, you can’t get off of campus. So right now, we are getting work done to solve that issue with latching gates so students can get out, but it will be more difficult for community members to get in,” said Allemann.
The El Morro Elementary School campus is also looking to help make their school safer. Along with looking into hiring another SRO, they are also adding new things to their campus like a new intercom system and making sure their campus is completely fenced off.
“We are working with our community partners to make some [changes] to the signage in front of the school, so drivers do not get confused and enter our parking lot for the Crystal Cove State Park or park in our school parking lot to go to the beach,” said El Morro principal Chris Duddy. “We have implemented many changes over the years, and we upgrade our safety plans each year.”
The idea of run, hide, fight is fairly new in the world of education. This varied response was one that was developed over time as schools learned more about school shootings. Hiding isn’t necessarily recommended for every scenario.
“You need to make a decision. Are you going to run and try to find somewhere to hide, or are you going to fight back? And that’s not school specific, that’s going to happen wherever you are in life that you might have to have that same reaction. Run, hide, fight is a natural reaction,” said superintendent Dr. Jason Viloria.
How to educate students on weighty topics such as these is challenging. Making sure not to raise anxieties and increase students’ and parents’ fears regarding the issue, is, of course, a real concern. Open dialogue between parents and school administration is something that is stressed highly at all levels. It provides an opportunity for students to be completely prepared for all situations.
“I am always a big believer in open communication. Unfortunately, we live in a time where these kinds of conversations, while difficult, are necessary. I think there is value in discussing this topic when talking about any disaster preparedness as a family. As a parent, it is important to note how your child is responding to the topic and always answer as honestly as possible any questions that your child may have,” said Thurston Middle School principal Jenny Salberg.
As concerns for school safety grow throughout the country, all members of a respective community need to play a part.
“There is no greater priority for us than the safety of our students and staff members. We want to reinforce the message to our students, staff, and community that if they see something suspicious to say something to a school staff member, administrator, or law enforcement,” said Viloria.