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School Safety Examined
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In the wake of the school tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut on Friday, Dec. 14, questions about the safety plans of schools are on the minds of people in communities across the country, including here in Oakdale.

While the crazed gunman that attacked Sandy Hook Elementary School found ways to exploit weaknesses in what seemed to be a secure school, it’s important to remember there is no such thing as a perfect safety plan. However, when confronted with unusual or dangerous circumstances, schools with current, accurate safety procedures in place will fare better than those without.

Questions about the Oakdale Joint Unified School District’s safety policy were recently posed to Superintendent Marc Malone.

“We have a comprehensive safety plan,” he said, adding that it includes the district as a whole and also each school site, and it is response-specific.

He reported that if there is an issue at a given site, the principal becomes the incident commander. Within each site plan, there are lockdown procedures.

Lockdown drills are also performed regularly. In the drills, students are taught to move away from doors and windows and the classroom door is to be locked. If they are outside and a threat occurs, they are to move to the nearest available room. In that situation, then the adult in the room would take the names of the children who come inside.

When asked if all the classroom doors lock from the inside or have to be locked from the outside, Malone said that at some of the older sites there are some doors that lock from the inside and some that only lock from the outside.

He also noted that some people become frustrated with the sign-in procedures at the Oakdale schools but there is a good reason why they are so strict about it – because it’s important to know if non-students are on campus.

“We’re always looking to reevaluate, but the safety plan is up-to-date and gets regular review each year,” he said.

He added that OJUSD also had input from the sheriff’s office, the police department, and the fire department on the safety plan.

“The policy will never be outdated…,” Malone stated. “I can safely say it’s not just for Oakdale. Other districts have them… That’s not a policy you want to have out of date.”

OJUSD tested what were new emergency plans and procedures in April of 2007 when Oakdale High School hosted a full simulated crisis drill with “active shooters” on a Saturday. It involved participation from Oakdale Police Department and its SWAT team, Public Works, Oakdale City Fire, Oak Valley Hospital, school district personnel, and also assistance from Turlock City Police SWAT. There were also about 30 students who participated to play victims, perpetrators, and hostages. The students who acted as gunmen in that scenario were given options on how to play out their parts so it wouldn’t be a scripted action and law enforcement could react more naturally.

Malone said that drills help affirm that the safety plan is accurate.

In emergencies, parents would be alerted of a situation through the district’s automated notification system called Connect Ed and there would also be updates on the district’s website. Some school districts use social media for updates but Malone said that the district isn’t using Facebook or Twitter at this time for such information.

After an incident, Malone said that how the children would be released would depend on the circumstances. Several variables would influence the decisions.

“If we’re in a situation where we’re going to release kids with a school still being under lockdown, then we would release those kids class by class,” he reported. “We would verify the kids’ presence via attendance and then they would be released class by class either to their parents or to a bus if we had to relocate the students to another site. Generally speaking, that’s not the case. Usually when you’re under lockdown, you stay under lockdown until you release the lockdown, and then we would release the students much as we would any other school day.”

For example, Malone said that if the intruder or situation was contained on a certain area of campus, and the students could be released, then they would be released class by class. He referred to the graphic picture of Sandy Hook students who put their hands on each other’s shoulders with a teacher leading them out and said that’s a similar plan for Oakdale if the students were to go to a central location. They would either go to a retention area, especially if they still had to be bussed home, or to their parents. If they needed to be relocated offsite in the middle of the school day, they would likely be bussed to a central location such as the high school or junior high because of the gymnasiums there.