The Coast News Group
The Carlsbad Unified School District offices. Courtesy photo

CUSD board debates fence or wall at Valley MS

CARLSBAD — Safety and upgrades were front and center for the Carlsbad Unified School District board of trustees during its Nov. 13 meeting.

The board debated the merits of an 8-foot wrought iron fence or a wall along a boundary at Valley Middle School. Staff and neighbors spoke at the meeting saying they were “anti-wall” as a lack of vision would be detrimental.

Over at Hope Elementary, the board’s discussion focused on improvements regarding the courtyard and other areas with the addition of possible shade structures, lights, sound and an amphitheater.

The projects are part of Measure HH, the $265 million school bond passed in 2018 for massive upgrades to infrastructure and buildings to nearly every school in the district.

In the end, though, the board voted to approve the fence, 3-2, with trustees Claudine Jones and Veronica Williams voting against, and then directing district staff to analyze shade, lights and sound for Hope.

The fence at Valley was a tough decision for the board, as all five members saw the pros and cons of each barrier. At the core, though, was visibility of the students, potential drug and homeless activity and the threat of a potential shooter sliding a weapon through the fence for a clear field of fire.

Jones said her oldest daughter was attending Kelly Elementary School in 2010 when a shooter fired numerous rounds injuring two. She said the experience left her scared and noted those threats are more prevalent and growing.

On Nov. 14, two students were killed and six injured at Saugus High School in Santa Clarita after a shooting.

“Unfortunately, the need for school safety isn’t going down,” Jones said in reference to shootings (the Santa Clarita shooting happened the previous day). “This is why we went to the voters.”

Those in support of the fence — Ray Pearson, Elisa Williamson and Kathy Rallings — said, noting assessments conducted by law enforcement, a killer will find a way on to a campus regardless of its defenses.

“I went back and forth on this,” Rallings said. “We’re doing wrought iron at all the other schools and I’d ask the board why they were in favor of that?”

Physical education teacher Brandon Lascelles, who is a former police officer in New Hampshire, said the staff and neighbors were “anti-wall” as it prevents a sightline and could lead to more misbehavior and potential illegal activities off school grounds.

“The wall creates an unsafe environment,” he added. “Our main concern is student safety on and off campus.”

As for Hope, staff and parents for years have been requesting upgrades to the courtyard. One idea was an amphitheater that but was moved to an outlying edge of the property.

The reason, according to district Assistant Superintendent Chris Wright is because the courtyard also acts as a fire line. Any structure is impermissible per the Carlsbad Fire Department, he added.

A survey of staff and stakeholders, though, showed the amphitheater was the most popular and least popular item, so the board scrapped it. The amphitheater was mentioned as a way to add space to allow for large-scale assemblies and gatherings at the school.

In place, though, will be the inclusion of either shade or lights and sound. Carlsbad Unified staff are expected to bring back the item in January or February. The board only has $100,000 of bond money to spend, so it will likely be just one project for approval.