Safety in Oakdale schools is at the forefront within the administration at Oakdale Joint Unified School District.
While the recent tragedy in Florida may have parents and community members concerned regarding safety plans within the given school sites, the safety plan must be bigger than just being restricted to an incident of a school shooting. OJUSD Superintendent of Schools Marc Malone shared it is the responsibility of the district to ensure the campuses are prepared to handle emergency instances in all circumstances.
“We need to have a really well vetted over-arching district response plan for those type of instances,” Malone said, referring to a more global plan including all instances where safety is critical.
Gone are the days of the basic Fire and Evacuation Drills. In addition to those, Oakdale schools now host three additional drills: shelter in place, a lock down drill and a secure school drill.
“This whole idea of a school intruder is no longer something that you can say, that won’t happen here,” Malone stated candidly, “because it can happen here. People understand the severity of these situations and the fact that our ability to respond is going to minimize the damage that occurs.”
According to Malone and Assistant Superintendent Larry Mendonca, in addition to the overall district response plan, there are individual site plans as well. Those plans make note of the uniqueness of each Oakdale campus and a need for varying plans to serve each one.
An outside agency is consulted annually to review, as well as offer input on existing plans and how they may be better suited for the best overall response.
Of the most notable recent changes would be that made in terms of police response to a campus.
“First one there is the first one in,” Malone said of the most recent change.
No longer do officers wait outside of the campus to confer with others on a plan before entering the site.
“That’s the newest thing that is out there,” he continued. “The sooner they can engage an intruder of a site, the better that the intruder’s attention is on the person engaging them.”
Oakdale Police Department, as well as OJUSD offices, are equipped with monitors linked to every security camera located throughout each of the campuses.
OJUSD also has independent communication within the district as well as tied in with OPD, enabling communication to all sources beyond that of cell phone and land line.
When it comes to notifying parents and community members of updated and accurate information in an emergency type situation, both Malone and Mendonca shared that is done via the district’s website, as well as phone once accurate information is available.
“It’s really our purpose to get accurate information as soon as we can,” Mendonca stated. “We want to make sure that parents know if they get on the website or the info they get in their phone, that information is going to be accurate.”
“We do have an SRO (School Resource Officer),” Malone added. “We only have one, along with that SRO we also have our own designated Police Department. They’re going to respond within minutes.”
OJUSD also owns its bus transportation service, which could prove equally important in time of emergency if the district is in need of evacuating students. A third party transportation would need not be notified, as the district would just call up their own drivers to jump into service and respond to the appropriate campus. In the event of site evacuation students would be taken to the Oakdale School Farm, where there is shelter as well as only one way in and one way out, which can be controlled by district staff.
“We control who goes in and we control who goes out,” Malone said. “Parents go in, parents come out. The advent of that facility is a part of our overall ability to respond to those things that come.”
As they look to the action plans currently in place, Malone shared he would like to see the action plan simplified for the campus staff, noting that when placed in an emergency situation, simplicity and safety are key.
Both administrators recognize in the day and age of cell phones, text messages and social media may give the situation a life which is not accurate or helpful in a given situation.
“We may not be able to give every little detail, but we will be able to give you what the current response is and where we are in regards to our emergency action,” Malone said.
“One place where social media can be a positive, is that when they see and they hear things that’s not appropriate, that they weigh in,” he continued. “Let us know. Let PD know. More importantly when they see somebody post something that is not to our social norms … and hopefully all of us understand that shooting innocent people, that’s below our social norms. That is not okay behavior.
“When you see someone comment about that or make statements that makes that popularized, weigh in,” he said, “and then let us know and we’ll respond.”
Mendonca added he felt it was one of the positives that Oakdale has as a one high school town. Students, he said, do speak up and take ownership in the safety of the school.
“We get a lot of information,” Mendonca said. “There is a lot of that trusted communication. Fortunately for us in Oakdale, I think parents and the whole community can feel good about that.”