Police Allay Fears Over School Safety

Chief Paul Workman
Chief Paul Workman

Panicking parents can be the biggest obstacle during a school crisis, Police Chief Paul Workman told school board members Tuesday.

The board requested a report on school safety at this week’s meeting, partly due to the shooting rampage last month at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

The report assured board members and is intended to alleviate parents’ and community concerns by outlining precautionary steps already implemented and new procedures that will be on-going to address any disaster or threat at the four local public schools.

“In the middle of trying to handle an emergency incident, parents can just drive us nuts,” Workman told the board.  “They’ll flood into our command post, they’ll shut us down trying to get to their kids.” In case of an emergency, Workman said the police department will establish an evacuation center away from the command post where parents will be directed so they can safely pick up their children.

To allay potential disasters like Columbine and Newtown, Workman said a patrol detective, Spring Sendele, was recently reassigned as the department’s juvenile detective and will become a visible presence on each of the city’s school campuses.  “The more exposure we have and interaction with the staff and with the students,” said Workman, “the more than likely little Jamie is going to walk up to one of the officers at the campus and say, ‘Excuse me, but my friend….,’ which might lead us into getting that kid some help before it turns into some serious situation.”

Adam Lanza, the Sandy Hook shooter who murdered his mother prior to the school massacre and then shot himself afterward, was known as exhibiting behavior described as odd, according to an Associated Press report.  In regards to the April 1999 shooting rampage at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., Tom Klebold wrote in his book, “Far from the Tree,” that his son, Dylan, one of two teens responsible for the macabe  occurrence, was an outcast at his school.

Police officers regularly oversee all four schools everyday on foot and in their vehicles, Workman said.  “Columbine is a great example where law enforcement shifted in their approach to scenarios, especially in a school where you have what we call an active-shooter situation,” he said.  “Columbine really demonstrated that the individual had no regard for his own life and that he was just trying to make a sensational impact in an environment with a lot of people who were innocent victims.”

Workman explained that instead of trying to talk the perpetrator “down” in potentially violent situations, there will be no waiting or attempts to communicate with a kamikaze-type gunman.  “It is really tough in our society to address terrorism acts where people are willing to die to take other people’s lives,” he commented.  He said officers will now immediately enter the building to “identify the threat and do what we can to stop it.”

Workman added that, instead of parking a couple of blocks away and waiting for a signal from police, a medical emergency team will also go in with the officers to assist any wounded.  “What we’ve learned from all of these scenarios is that there may be people laying on the sidewalk bleeding or needing immediate help and they’re not going to last 30 minutes,” he said.

Every Laguna Beach police officer has recently completed a federally funded training on rapid response to violence and terrorism at schools. “We’re trying to put the public’s mind at rest and it seems very important to the parents and to the teachers and employees at the schools to at least see a presence,” the police chief said.  The police department takes a supporting role in other crises, such as fires and earthquakes, following the fire department’s and emergency medical services’ lead.

The power point presentation on current and future school safety procedures was presented by the district’s team of preparedness employees, which includes El Morro Elementary principal Christopher Duddy, Thurston Middle School principal Jennifer Salberg and director of facilities, grounds and construction Ted Doughty.  The presentation listed procedures for emergency and disaster planning, including evacuation, lock down, training and practicing safety drills, as provided by the Standardized Emergency Management System and the National Incident Management System.

Other School Board News

Marilyn O’Keefe, director of the preschool program at Laguna Presbyterian Church, was recognized for participating and integrating her services with the district’s preschool program at Top of the World Elementary.  Heather Bosworth, first-grade teacher at El Morro, was also commended for recently being selected as one of 15 educators in Orange County to become a 2012 National Board Certified teacher, considered the most elite honor for local teachers.  Bosworth, who was one of the few teachers accepted on submittal of their first application, said writing about the exemplary programs at Laguna Beach public schools made it possible to receive the award.  She will hold the certification for 10 years.

Laguna Beach High School Principal Joanne Culverhouse distributed freshly published handbooks for students and parents on the latest requirements and easy-to-follow procedures for applying for college.  The updated handbooks will first be distributed to high school juniors and their parents at college prep meeting with a school counselor.  Culverhouse said there are plans to make sure every student and his or her parents receive the college entry handbook.

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