School safety, communicating a crisis to the public, laws relating to weapons on campus, and suggestions for improvements were all part of a special meeting of the Oakdale Joint Unified School District Board of Trustees on Jan. 28.
The well-attended meeting featured various public safety and district officials who spoke about the protocols in place and areas that were being looked at for improvement in an effort to inform the community. Public comments and suggestions for safety improvements were also presented and noted by district officials.
Opening comments were made by board president Mike Tozzi, who noted that the impetus for the meeting and talks with safety officials prior to the meeting was the Sandy Hook school shooting tragedy in Connecticut.
“…If it can happen at Sandy Hook, it can happen anywhere,” Tozzi said.
He added that the meeting was not about the Second Amendment or about gun control and called for civility.
Following Tozzi’s remarks, OJUSD Director of Pupil Services Larry Mendonca reported on the district’s safety plans, laws relating to weapons and how crisis information would and could be communicated to the public – a recap of his presentation at the previous board meeting. He also spoke on the recent debate firestorm and “hot topics” that schools are facing with public policy and education policy. Further, he talked about how the district provides a comprehensive and balanced approach now to school safety, including details about awareness and support for prevention, preparation in response, and hardening infrastructure.
Regarding infrastructure, Mendonca noted that it is a difficult balance of “fortifying” schools while still having them be “open and welcoming.” He added that retrofitting and renovating can be cost prohibitive, even for some simple problems, and further stated that no design or mechanism is guaranteed for safety.
Superintendent Marc Malone reported on how some safety improvements have been made with video cameras at school entrances to eliminate “blind spots” and noted that they will be looking into the Multi Purpose Room renovation plans at Fair Oaks and Cloverland elementary schools to see if they can be modified to improve safety.
Oakdale Police Department Chief Lester Jenkins provided details about first responder protocols and some background on the DARE program which was scrapped and replaced with School Resource (police) Officers. The City of Oakdale and OJUSD shared in the cost of SROs. He said that the cost for a uniformed officer today, including salary and full benefits, is about $95,000. Jenkins reported that when cuts had to be made to city and school budgets, the SRO program went away. He said that OPD once had 28 full time officers and now there are 20 officers, but soon one more will be added. OPD no longer has a SWAT team but many of the SWAT officers are still with the department, he said.
Jenkins reviewed when the OPD did an active shooter drill with the school district a few years ago and reported that there are plans to do another such drill before the end of the school year. He discussed the various trainings that the police department has related to school violence and the nationally recognized crisis management training. The OPD also has two sergeants trained in crisis negotiation. Jenkins also said that a federal matching grant obtained about five years ago provided for the security cameras and a server for the Oakdale schools. The school district and the OPD has monitors for the cameras, and he said that each school has cameras and OHS is “heavily saturated” with surveillance cameras.
Jenkins added that OPD will become involved with the schools’ lockdown drills. He reported that in most incidents, though not all, shooters look for the “softest” or most vulnerable targets, and stated that any plan for the police involves “locate, isolate and eliminate any threat.”
Stanislaus County Consolidated Fire Chief Steve Mayotte, who also serves as the fire chief by contract for Oakdale fire services, provided information about what happens whenever 911 is dialed, how medical services are dispatched, and how hospitals in the county and beyond are notified when there are multiple casualty incidents. He discussed the mutual aid system and how various emergency agencies coordinate and cooperate.
Trustee Tina Shatswell commented on how well organized the response was when the high school had a bomb threat a few years ago. Trustee Bill Dyer also thanked first responders past and present for their support and cooperation over the years with the schools.
Oakdale Teachers Association President Stacy Graham provided information on how teachers deal with crisis management, the various drills they practice, how often, and some of the issues that are presented with younger students in lockdown drills. She reported on safety handbooks for teachers and site plans, and noted that having a uniform policy to inform substitute teachers about safety plans would be good. OJUSD Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources Teri Taylor agreed and had made note of it. Graham also talked about how coaches and newer teachers are among the best trained in first aid and CPR as a whole because it is required to get a credential. She said that teachers are not required to renew or update their first aid certificates. OJUSD offers free first aid and CPR training twice a year but Taylor reported that only some teachers take advantage of it, and it’s more used by classified personnel and coaches. Taylor added that it can’t be mandated to renew the first aid certifications unless it is part of a bargaining agreement or state mandated.
Graham also explained about the locking mechanisms on the classroom doors at the different school sites and how some that could previously only be locked from the outside were improved by adding a magnet system. However, she noted that some schools still have doors that can only be locked from the outside.
Graham further expressed concerns about the various entry points for Oakdale’s high school and junior high school. Malone stated that those campuses are more difficult but that security monitors patrol those campuses and there are cameras; however, the “fix” isn’t an easy one.
Student board member Madison Lane brought several ideas to the table when she offered the students’ perspective on safety in crisis situations. She reported that the general consensus amongst the students she interviewed was that the most important points for dealing with crisis situations are prevention and preparedness. She said that they also agreed that while they felt district personnel were prepared for crisis situations, they themselves didn’t feel prepared and needed more information.
Lane reported that they said they don’t know what to do if something happens while they’re outside of class or at lunch off campus and there is also a perceived infrequency of lockdown drills. She also described concerns that students have about reporting to one central location during fire drills or what could be assumed is a fire drill.
It was requested that Lane’s written comments be shared with Malone and Taylor, as her information provided several insights.
Public comments came in the form of suggestions about providing Walkie Talkies for all teachers and how easily fundraising could be done to purchase them, and also a suggestion about providing kits in classrooms to cover the small windows that are in classroom doors or installing something on the doors that could be pulled over the windows for lockdown purposes. Another suggestion was to consider special alarm sounds for particular issues, instead of the need for announcements with certain code names. Examples given were that fire alarms have a special sound, a tsunami warning has a special sound, and so on, so that students and staff would hear the sound and know exactly what the issue was and respond accordingly.
A representative from State Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen’s office was in attendance and reported that Olsen is on a “listening tour” to gather information to present as legislation for safety, security, mental health and other issues related to school safety. It was reported that Olsen will be at the March 11 OJUSD school board meeting.