Parents worried about school safety | January 25, 2013 | Pleasanton Weekly | |

Pleasanton Weekly

News - January 25, 2013

Parents worried about school safety

Schools have plans in place to cover nearly every emergency, officials say

by Glenn Wohltmann

Armed guards. A police officer at every school. Locked fences. Those were a few of the suggestions raised by some Pleasanton parents who are worried about the safety of their kids.

At a forum on school safety Jan. 16, an audience of about 65 people -- many of them school administrators -- turned up to talk about how to protect children, following recent shootings in Connecticut and California.

School Superintendent Parvin Ahmadi was joined by police Chief Dave Spiller and Deputy Chief Joseph Rodondi of the Livermore-Pleasanton Fire Department to talk and listen to parents.

The talk also drew in a number of current and former principals, all of whom agreed: Schools in Pleasanton are safe.

Harvest Park Middle School Principal Ken Rocha showed the audience a 4-inch thick binder addressing safety issues. He and Ahmadi declined to talk about the specifics included in it for security reasons but parents were invited to see a copy of the safety plan at the schools their children attend.

The safety plan includes plans for a wide range of contingencies, covering everything from fires to chemical spills to earthquakes to intruders and more.

"When you think of safety, you look at (things like) 'duck and cover,'" Rocha told the crowd, "but it's also about proactiveness."

He said his school recently held an intruder drill, which included a pre-drill, talking with police.

The plan is updated at each school every year, based on conversations with staff, police, students and parents. The deadline for the update is March 1 and parents were invited to become involved.

Bill Faraghan, assistant superintendent of human resources, told the audience about an incident that occurred when he was principal at Fairlands Elementary The school got a call that armed men were in the area while he was out on the playground with students. The school was locked down -- the men actually arrived at Fairlands and tried to get in but were arrested -- all within about three minutes.

But the district is doing more to fine-tune its procedures.

"We've been working on standardizing our drills more, working more closely with the Police Department," Ahmadi said.

And the district is bringing in its insurance company for another perspective on what can be done, Deputy Superintendent Luz Cazares said.

"It'll be nice to have an independent third party come in and make sure our sites are safe," she said.

But at least some of the parents seemed to want more. One asked if the district would consider putting a police officer at every school, something Spiller said would be costly and could hinder the Police Department's ability to respond to other calls.

Another parent wanted to know why elementary schools aren't locked down.

"We can lock every door, we can put a 10-foot fence up around every room. It's really about taking precautions," Ahmandi said, pointing out that both schools where recent shootings occurred had strong safety procedures.

She added that many parents were resistant earlier this year when they were told they'd no longer be able to walk their children directly to their classroom.

Spiller said schools could initiate 1,000 safety procedures, but that someone intent on doing harm could come up with just one more; Rodondi noted that schools have to be able to get kids out quickly, something that could be hindered by locked gates.

The district recently received a federal grant that allowed the locks on all doors to be changed.

A parent questioned whether armed guards could be stationed at schools. Spiller worried that guards may not receive the same level of training as police officers.

"The effectiveness lies in the capacity of the individual and the proficiency with whatever they are armed with," Spiller said. "The effectiveness really comes down to the standards to which they're trained."

One parent noted that money for security guards would be better spent on hiring more counselors, although another suggested arming teachers with tasers.

A parent asked if the schools plan for the use of other weapons, such as bombs.

"These are all included in our plans," Ahmadi said, adding one proviso.

"I don't think we can tell you we've thought of everything," she said.

Asked how often police practice intruder drills, Spiller said that was done at every school at least once a year, and that officers practice scenarios at schools when they're closed for breaks.

Beyond overall school safety, several parents asked about bullying, with one noting that the shooter at Newtown, Conn., may have been bullied.

The district has become more aware of the bullying issue. In a recent survey, there was a 9% increase in the number of staff that described bullying as a moderate to severe problem.

Amador Valley High School Principal Jim Hansen said at his school, administrators speak to students about bullying once every semester.

Foothill High Principal John Dwyer said bullying is more about being pushed out of a social group than physical violence. Administrators there also hold two meeting on bullying every year, and Dwyer said teachers are on the front line.

"They are always looking out in the classroom for something different," he said. "They know if something is up and they ask the kids."

He said Foothill also reaches out to sports teams and coaches about bullying, harassment and hazing.

Bullies and sometimes their victims can be transferred to other schools, said Kevin Johnson, senior director of pupil services.

Ahmadi asked parents to follow school policies, such as stopping at the office to get a name tag when entering a school. She encouraged parents to pass on the district's anonymous tip line telephone number -- 417-5199 -- to report problems of any type.

Rodondi offered simple advice.

"If you see something, say something," he said.


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