Pushing for Better Grades on School Safety

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Life-long educator and local resident David Long has his own best-practices lesson plan for school administrators with an annual Safe Schools Conference. Photo by Marilynn Young.
Life-long educator and local resident David Long has his own best-practices lesson plan for school administrators with an annual Safe Schools Conference. Photo by Marilynn Young.

David Long’s experiences as a father, teacher, superintendent and state education official sharpened his awareness of the need to make schools secure places for students and educators.

Now as an education consultant, the 75-year-old Laguna Beach resident has made school safety a personal priority, developing a safe schools conference where educators can learn from experts on how to cultivate a nurturing learning environment.

“How can we identify a problem if we don’t talk?” asked Long, who believes only by “laying it out on the table” with parents, school administrators and community leaders will they address some of the uncomfortable topics confronting educators, such as suicide, substance abuse and gun violence.

By law, California schools are required to develop a school safety plan that collaborates with local law enforcement.

While no Laguna Beach administrators attended Long’s most recent Safe Schools Conference, Superintendent Jason Viloria says the district’s emergency operation plan is in place and staff will undergo safety and emergency training at a workshop shortly after school resumes.

He said safety plans are evaluated to ensure they are current. “Just this spring, I met with Police Chief Laura Farinella and we worked with the police department on active shooter protocol as well with our leadership team,” said Viloria, adding that school officials will meet quarterly with police. He intends to meet with a school safety committee to review the current plan on Sept. 28, Viloria said.

By one measure, the district’s plans have succeeded. More than 90 percent of Laguna’s 11th-graders reported feeling safe at school, according to recently released results of the Healthy Kids Survey, a significant shift from the 2012 survey when just 67 percent of students said they felt very safe on campus. The later survey coincided with the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre on Dec. 14, 2012, the deadliest school shooting in U.S. history.

The school board recently approved installing 30 surveillance cameras at the high school, which can be accessed online. A discussion to allow police access to the cameras is underway, Facilities Director Jeffrey Dixon said at Tuesday’s school board meeting.

While LBUSD’s emergency plan takes into account natural disasters like fire and earthquakes, it also notes, “The potential for a school shooting or a shooting in the workplace exists on every school campus throughout the United States. Although the possession of firearms on or around our campuses is rare, their availability and past national and county shootings dictate the need for a response plan, in case a shooting or other violent attack occurs.”

For example, in response to a report of a shooting on campus, the policy calls for everyone to duck and cover on the floor, behind protective objects or in side rooms; to call 9-1-1, but limit other phone calls; to get inside or behind a building and stay down; to move or crawl away from gunfire; and to remain calm and answer the police operator’s questions.

Long served as the state’s top educator in 2008 and as Riverside County’s schools superintendent for eight years. His first conference was a one-day box lunch gathering with 90 people. The most recent one in Garden Grove drew 500 educators, parents and members of law enforcement from several states and high profile speakers including Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens.

Next year, Long said he envisions the conference’s focus on linking school safety, learning, attendance with higher test scores.

 

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