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Texans visit the memorial at Robb Elementary School dedicated to the victims of the May shooting in Uvalde, Texas, that left 19 children and two adults dead. Photo by Jinitzail Hernandez
Texans visit the memorial at Robb Elementary School dedicated to the victims of the May shooting in Uvalde, Texas, that left 19 children and two adults dead. Photo by Jinitzail Hernandez
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Coastal school districts revisit safety policies in wake of Uvalde shooting

REGION — In the weeks since a gunman opened fire on elementary school students in Uvalde, Texas, coastal school districts in Encinitas, Del Mar and Solana Beach have begun evaluating and bolstering their safety plans to prevent a similar tragedy on their campuses.

The May 24 attack at Robb Hill Elementary School left 19 children and two adults dead and 17 others injured, making it the second-deadliest school shooting in the country’s history.

However, the rampant issue of school gun violence has been all too familiar to educational agencies for years — the Uvalde attack marked the country’s 27th school shooting in 2022 alone.

Local school districts are required under the California Education Code to have comprehensive safety plans for each school site and update them regularly. Districts have some flexibility in implementing these plans, and many, like the Del Mar Union School District, have already created them with the possibility of school shootings in mind.

“We got those safety plans in place when there was another school shooting, and it really pains me to have been here and to be able to say that there are so many school shootings going on. Enough already is what everybody’s thinking,” said Doug Rafner, a Del Mar Union trustee. “Rest assured that fortunately, but unfortunately, we are well prepared to take care of your children.”

In late June, the district reviewed several elements of the safety plan and proposed ways to bolster security. According to officials, each school’s perimeter fencing is secured by custodial staff once the school day starts, limiting the points of entry to just the front offices. There, all visitors undergo a background check via the Raptor system.

Security cameras are currently being installed at Pacific Sky School, and the district will be putting out a request for proposals to install cameras at the remaining seven schools, officials said.

Executive Director of Student Services Jennifer Huh also emphasized that the district focuses on training staff to respond to multiple emergencies while training students to follow directions from adults.

“As an elementary school district, we want to ensure that our trainings are really developmentally appropriate for our students, and that’s why we’re really focusing on ensuring that the adults know the best response for the situation and are able to advise the students in those moments and direct the students, and the students are prepared to follow the teacher’s directive,” Huh told the school board on June 22.

In the neighboring Solana Beach School District, officials are reviewing and updating school safety plans to account for physical and social-emotional safety.

Over the next month, principals from each of the seven district sites will conduct site walk-throughs with law enforcement and share suggestions from parents, staff and the community. District leadership will also meet with law enforcement, superintendent Jodee Brentlinger said in a June 16 presentation to the school board.

Feedback from these discussions and recommendations from the annual California Safe Schools Conference in mid-July will then be used to identify improvement measures, which will be implemented through August.

District officials also plan to present a school safety update to the board and hold school-specific and district-wide school safety meetings in August. Board members will soon be presented with a resolution committing to continued collaboration with local stakeholders to create a safe school environment and recognize school gun violence as an epidemic that the federal government must address.

On the high school level, students in the San Dieguito Union High School District are joining in the calls for increased safety measures.

Shane Baum, who will be a senior and Associated Student Body vice president at La Costa Canyon Academy in the fall, spoke during the district board’s June 23 meeting about the impacts of continued gun violence and called on the district to share information about safe storage laws and support common-sense gun legislation for background checks.

“America’s schools used to be the safest place for children to be in on a daily basis. Over the last 20 years, our students, educators and parents have lived with devastating school shootings,” Baum said. “We can foster safe, supportive schools free from gun violence by addressing the factors that lead to violent incidents and implementing proven strategies that contribute to a healthy school environment.”

At the same meeting, trustees entered a contentious discussion about whether to revise a board policy regarding a school’s response to a student who brings a firearm or other dangerous weapon onto school property.

Board president Maureen “Mo” Muir proposed changing a piece of the policy, which states that the principal of a school “shall notify law enforcement authorities” when a student brings a weapon, to say that a principal “must notify law enforcement authorities.”

“‘Shall’ is not mandatory. We have to notify our law enforcement, and we have to take care of all of our students and ensure their safety on our campuses,” Muir said.

She noted later that involving law enforcement does not always mean they show up at the school with guns drawn. It could mean they visit the home of the involved student with district officials to notify the student’s parents, as was done during the past school year in response to a threat left by a student on one of the school campuses.

Interim Superintendent Tina Douglas assured the board that the district already interprets the word “shall” in the policy as meaning “must.” Other board members also expressed concerns about deviating from the state ed code, which also uses the word “shall,” and emphasized the importance of de-escalation.

“I think that the reason that ‘shall’ is in there is it gives some flexibility to see that police will be reported and … to address the exact situation and de-escalate it. We don’t want to go in guns blazing with law enforcement in a volatile situation,” said Trustee Katrina Young.

The proposed change was brought forward only as a discussion time, and no changes have been made to the policy.

School districts in San Diego County have brought forward various resolutions supporting common-sense gun legislation and committing to reviewing safety plans.

In December 2021, in the wake of a school shooting in Michigan that left four students dead, the San Dieguito Union High School District adopted a resolution affirming its mission to protect students and support safe storage laws and other legislation.

San Diego County has seen a handful of school shootings since the early 2000s, including the 2001 attack at Santana High School in Santee, which left two students dead, and the shooting at El Cajon’s Granite Hills High School in 2001, which left five students and teachers injured, and the 2010 attack at Kelly Elementary School in Carlsbad which left two students injured.