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School District Revamps Campus, Student Safety

School safety doesn’t look the way it once did. While fire drills and earthquake preparedness are still a part of classroom procedure the school “safety plan” of 2018 looks different than the one most parents might recall.

“The safety plan is not new, however obviously with events happening across the country we continuously re-evaluate and update our safety plans,” Assistant Superintendent Pupil Services and Facilities, Larry Mendonca said.

Learning from such events and enlisting the help of D Prep Inc. (Defense Preparation Consulting Firm), the district has been able to address and implement drills which are the best course of action in any situation.

“We’re just looking at the response procedures,” Mendonca continued. “A lot of lessons have been learned and it’s changed how we’ve done things. What is the best course of action in any situation.”

This includes looking at what to do, how to do it and who’s responsible. It also includes empowering the students as well as the staff with a simplistic approach of ‘run, hide, fight’ when faced with an active threat.

According to Mendonca, training of the past focused on securing the school, keeping students indoors and sheltering. Through the help of D Prep, as well as reviewing tactics, the district has gathered that varying situations require varying responses.

“It’s been made very clear, that a lockdown isn’t enough,” the assistant superintendent said, noting educating the staff and students by way of creating obstacles, barriers and distractions if an intruder should come onto campus.

“Any delay is a good delay,” he continued. “We call it a strive for five. Strive for five minutes, because the response time for law enforcement is five minutes.”

Mendonca added that to buy time, is to save lives. The prior approach of keeping students in place during a potential threat is actually not practical. Campuses are not only being taught to create time saving distractions, but encouraged to flee the scene to a “safe place” if this option proves a better fit.

“It’s getting students to understand if they can get away, get away,” he said.

This naturally will come only through repetitive training, so that if faced with such circumstances the response becomes automatic. All school sites have designated off campus spots for students to run to.

A one page ready sheet has also been created versus the manuals/guides of the past at the request of Superintendent Marc Malone. It’s a quick reference guide to better assist staff when placed in what could be a panic situation.

The one page guide includes bullet points of action including: Fire/Evacuation; Secure School; Lockdown/Barricade; Active Threat; Shelter in Place and Duck and Cover.

“This is what we’re training staff and students on,” Mendonca said of the reference guide.

The ‘fight’ portion of the training is not one of teaching the students to become combative, but rather along the line of creating distraction to create a sense of chaos if faced by an intruder.

“We’re teaching kids to grab something,” he said. “Grab a book, grab a stapler, whatever you have and when you’re hidden it’s bombardment time.”

Students are also being taught and encouraged to not seek space together, but rather to scatter and hide throughout the classroom. All training throughout the district for both the teachers as well as students, takes age and maturity into account. Mendonca indicated the staff has been receptive, recognizing the need for such training and preparedness at this time. The Oakdale Police Department and School Resources Officer Guillermo Manriquez were instrumental in developing emergency responses.

“I think the more information we give them, the better they feel they’re prepared,” he said.

As for taking the drills and training to a new level and the seriousness of action which must be faced, the Assistant Superintendent recognizes it’s not ideal, yet it is reality.

“I’d rather be ready than not,” he stated. “I’d rather be ready to protect a kid, than wish I had been ready. We’re not instructing kids to get into hand to hand combat. Anything to buy us some seconds for someone to come in and neutralize the threat.”

Safety drills and training are reviewed with teachers and administrators at their monthly meetings.