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Districts address school safety in report

REGION — From keeping out intruders to evacuating students, school districts throughout the county examined how secure their campuses are and prepared their staff is for safety emergencies.

“Student safety and adult safety are our number one priority. Teaching and learning can’t occur unless people feel safe,” said Jennifer Walters, Superintendent of the Escondido Union School District.

“While we are about educating and teaching students, we have to make sure we do that in the best environment,” said Carlsbad Unified School District Superintendent Suzette Lovely.

In March, San Diego County’s Grand Jury released a report addressing school safety needs and recommending specific actions for local districts to enhance security.

The report’s fifteen findings focused on measures that districts can take beyond security infrastructure like fences and locked doors to improve safety.

“Physical security measures alone, such as increasing armed security and/or arming school staff, should not be solely relied on to ensure the safety of school staff and students,” the report stated.

The report recommended increased communication between district staff, first responders, parents, and students as well as established training and security plans.

Each San Diego County school district responded to each of the Grand Jury’s findings in terms of how the recommendations applied to their specific schools.

The Carlsbad Unified, Escondido Union, and San Marcos Unified school districts emphasized their ongoing partnerships with law enforcement and fire departments as a key component to their security measures.

Each of the districts has recognized methods of direct communication with the first responders in their cities as well as shared practice drills on school campuses with simulated emergencies.

Walters said that a district representative has direct access to Escondido’s police and fire command center during an emergency to keep school officials updated on the situation and how to address it.

The Escondido Union School District has also implemented a wider variety of emergency drills. The district used to only practice drills for earthquakes and fire drills, but now schools also run lock down and active shooter drills during the school year with participating first responders.

Carlsbad schools now practice drills for tsunamis and plane crashes on campus that specifically involve the districts’ resource officers, said Tim Evanson, the district’s safety coordinator.

Each of the districts has also ensured that local emergency personnel also have blueprints and keys to every school.

Carlsbad Unified School District has digitally blueprinted each of its schools and painted doorways specific colors so law enforcement knows not only the layout of a given campus but more detailed information including how many exits a certain building has.

Many school districts also highlighted the multitude of ways that administrators can reach out to parents and community members with quick information in an emergency via websites, social media, and automatic phone call systems.

Walters and Lovely said their districts made use of these communication systems during the recent fires.

Moving forward, many of the districts are focusing on enhanced training for school staff.

This fall, more Carlsbad administrators will be trained in assessing potential threats to campus safety.

Walters added the district is looking to train more school staff on first aid and CPR.

Both Lovely and Walters also said that their districts focus on maintaining heightened awareness at all schools for suspicious activities, including a stranger on campus. They said that their districts offer a number of ways to report concerning activity, including anonymous tip lines.

Disagreeing slightly with the Grand Jury report, Escondido Union and other North County districts said that security infrastructure is still a vital part of keep students and staff safe.

Walters pointed out that in August, Escondido Union School District’s board will decide whether to put a bond measure on the November ballot that would in part pay for additional safety infrastructure at the district’s schools.