How safe are Los Alamitos schools?
There has been a lot of discussion in the wake of the recent Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy. Because of incidents such as Sandy Hook and Columbine High School in Colorado, it would seem that any school district should take a close look at how safe their schools are and if they can be improved.
Even in relatively quiet Los Alamitos, the Los Alamitos School District had begun taking another look at what it can do to better protect the safety of its students.
“Statistically speaking, our schools are safe,” Superintendent Dr. Sherry Kropp said. However, she also noted that the district is addressing the issue of school security with a special task force that was formed in August of 2012.
The Violence Prevention and Response Task Force met this last week to define the purpose of and to discuss having school resource officers/security officers, security cameras, secure campuses (fencing), use of volunteers and uniform prevention procedures.
“We practice already for a variety of drills including fire, earthquake and lockdown procedures, as required,” said Dr. Kropp. Lockdown procedures are basically when teachers lock their classroom doors and people stay in the room they are at or get into a room, she explained. “Where there is a bomb threat, we do lockdown procedures and call the police to help us identify the seriousness of the threat.”
“Initiating lockdowns come from the schools although law enforcement might suggest it,” she continued. “We are really fortunate we have strong relations with law enforcement.”
“We’ve had an increased police presence in all of our schools since Sandy Hook. It’s what they did immediately through an ongoing relationship between the district, Los Alamitos and Seal Beach Police chiefs, as well as the city managers.” Kropp said. “They are amazingly supportive, are proactive and responsive to our requests.”
Additionally, she said that all Los Alamitos schools have emergency supplies such as food, water and blankets in each classroom and in the administrative offices thanks to parents, and are updated annually. “There have been no outstanding incidences this year,” she said. “We’ve just had drills.”
It was on Dec. 14, 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut that Adam Lanza gunned down 20 children and 6 adults including his mother before taking his own life.
Los Alamitos Police Department patrols have been increased since Sandy Hook, according to Operations Division Commander Captain Bruce McAlpine, spokesman for the Los Alamitos Police Department.
“All officers have been trained in active shooter response,” he said. “We are really just one stakeholder in maintaining school safety, along with parents, students and the community.”
“Several times a week whether a school is calling us or we are taking a report or simply driving through their parking lot, we are visible,” he continued. “We have always been visible at all the schools.”
“Right now, people are coming to terms with the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary,” McAlpine said. “They feel something needs to be done whether it’s adding cameras, fencing or resource officers.” From 2003 to 2009, Los Alamitos schools used to have school resource officers, which were discontinued when the economy had a downturn, according to McAlpine.
“It allowed for an officer to have direct contact with students, staff and parents,” he continued. “Volunteers could be a potential option that communities might want to explore.” “You can’t make a school like a fortress,” he said. “Working towards progress has to be a joint effort with schools, parents, the community and law enforcement.”
“I’m sad,” said Dr. Kropp. “It is sad to me that this is necessary. I think our schools are safe, but we have to make sure we are doing everything we possibly can.”
Next week, the News Enterprise will take a look at what plans the school district and police department are looking at to help make schools more secure.
Los Alamitos schools look to increase security
Los Alamitos schools, police and the city are grappling with how to better safeguard children in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre that took place last month. In response, the Jan. 16 issue of the News Enterprise asked officials what measures are in place to help secure the safety of students in school and how they might be kept safer. In part two, we look at the district’s plans to increase security.
Superintendent Dr. Sherry Kropp has said that statistically, Los Alamitos Unified School District schools are safe, and it is addressing the issue with a Violence Prevention and Response Task Force which was formed in August 2012, and met a couple of weeks ago.
The News Enterprise attempted to speak with principals from Rossmoor Elementary, Oak Middle School and Los Alamitos High School, but they declined to comment and referred the issue back to the superintendent's office.
Dr. Kropp and Director Amber Lee-Ruiz are facilitating the task force meetings that give members (which include two representatives from the Board of Education), opportunities to share expertise in subcommittees of prevention/procedures, preparation/response, recovery, communications/emergency contacts, staff education and emergency operations center (E.O.C.). These subcommittees, in turn, provide information that Dr. Kropp will share with the entire Board of Education to help give her direction moving forward. The next task force meetings will be held on March 28 and May 22. The task force is made up of staff, parents, community members, local police and fire department representatives.
Kropp said she sent out more than 9,500 individual parent emails about the issue to all families on Dec. 14, and that she will be sending them an email again this week updating them on the task force, and announcing that she will talk inperson to parents at a meeting in February. Meanwhile, she has been meeting with staff, school PTAs and individual parents.
The News Enterprise obtained individual emails sent to parents from Los Alamitos principals. Rossmoor Elementary School Principal Kiva Spiratos wrote her school is “confident of their routine communication and safety procedures, that each teacher and staff member is mandated to wear a school identification badge and carry walkie talkies with them.” She also wrote “each visitor is mandated to sign in, and that all school gates are locked during the day.”
McGaugh Elementary School Principal William MacDonald communicated to parents in his email a day after the incident that the Sandy Hook tragedy was “truly a senseless act that can only be mourned, not understood.” He also said “as principal, that students and staff safety is his number one priority.”
Los Alamitos Elementary School Principal Dr. Sunghie Okino in his email to parents recommended that all visitors sign into the office to help keep strangers off campus, and to account for visitor’s presence in the event of an emergency.
“The Sandy Hook tragedy raised the urgency for the task force to talk about very specific topics,” Kropp said.
“We are still looking at all we can do for safety,” said Kropp. “We plan on beefing up what we already have, with the task force looking at what we already have in place, and what more we can do,” Kropp continued.
She said that safety is a multi-layered issue with school/student safety at the core. But that it also includes elements of crisis response, security cameras, fencing, and security personnel.
“No one thing protects against everything, consequently we have to have an on-going commitment to look at all the layers of this issue,” Kropp said.
She also said that they are reviewing all their protocols to ensure that all staff and students are trained in a variety of situations. The public can look at the Safe Schools Plan and Crisis Response Prevention manuals at the district offices.
Los Alamitos Mayor Warren Kusumoto weighed in on the issue saying the city should look at reinstating School Resource Officers (SRO), providing for them in the city’s budget. A mid-year budget review is scheduled in February, and Kusumoto along with the mayor pro-tem are already looking into requesting that the city council fund the SRO positions.
“The tragedy speaks to that we should have a presence in the schools,” Kusumoto said.
Meanwhile, Los Alamitos Police Chief Todd Mattern said that patrols have been stepped up at all schools.
“We certainly recognize that our schools and children are a priority,” Mattern said. “We are committed at making our community including schools as safe as can be.”
Both Police Chief Mattern and the Operations Division Commander for Los Alamitos Police Department spokesman, Captain Bruce McAlpine agree that their goal is to reduce issues and for the police to better respond to them. However, it seems that one motivated individual can wreak havoc in a short amount of time. A plan should include many facets of preparation and education.
McAlpine suggests parents should work with schools to educate their children on what to do if a tragedy occurs. He said, that parents need to help their children identify others in trouble, and be willing to go to school officials and counselors. He agreed that the problem is multifaceted.
“Unfortunately, we probably will never eradicate the problem,” McAlpine said. “Even the best measures may not prevent another Sandy Hook tragedy.”