School Districts Bolster Safety Plans In Aftermath of Shootings

Shootings in Colorado and Wisconsin motivate Menlo Park City and Sequoia Union High School Districts to discuss plans to protect students when they come back to school.

With the school year fast approaching, keeping children safe is likely on the radar of most parents, especially in light of the recent mass shootings in Wisconsin and .

Schools have often been the site of attacks, both those committed by a student and those committed by perpetrators from the outside.

Bay Area institutions have been the victims of such attacks recently, such as the San Bruno Shooting at Skyline College Shooting in 2009 and the San Jose State Shooting in 2011. Hillsdale High School would have been the scene of a destructive pipe bomb explosion in 2009, had it not been stopped by the forceful actions of the principal and a guidance counselor.

The question becomes how can schools prevent shootings and mitigate their damage when they do occur.

According to Alan Sarver, President of the , schools have been constantly improving security measures since the Columbine Shootings.

“Security is consistently on the radars of school communities everywhere,” Sarver said. 

Security cameras have been installed at schools throughout the Sequoia Union High School District, while communication measures with authorities are being better coordinated.

Peninsula police departments regularly work together as part of a mutual aid package to be prepared for school shootings, according to Palo Alto Police Lieutenant Zach Perron, Head of the Palo Alto Police’s Investigations Unit.

“Due to the small size of peninsula cities, a school shooting can immediately overwhelm any individual city’s police,” said Perron.

Nonetheless, Peron added that due to regular drills and cooperation, local police forces should be able to effectively respond to any such incident.

“We’re confident we’re prepared for anything that happens at a school.”

 Superintendent stressed the importance of accounting for the whereabouts of everyone at school in the security process.

“We pay attention to visitors and we know who’s on campus,” Ghysels said. 

Ghysels said that his office had worked closely with the Menlo Park Police Department on security plans for the new , scheduled to open September 4th.

“Safety must come first,” Ghysels said.

Both school leaders added that a system of codes is in place to warn students and teachers on campus about a suspicious incident. For security reasons, those codes were not revealed.

Though security measures can help to prevent or mitigate the damage of a shooting, the core of preventing such incidents could come in the form of improved counseling services. A vast majority of perpetrators of school shootings have been committed by people with serious psychological, mood and behavioral issues that experts speculate may have been prevented had they been addressed early on.

In that regard, Sarver said local schools have come up short.

California ranks last among all 50 states in terms of the ratio between students and counseling staff. have only worsened the situation.

“The school financing situation in California is extremely dangerous to our society,”  Sarver said.

At the each counselor handles 400 to 500 students, which according to Sarver, does not give them sufficient time to understand of address major student problems.

In the event of a shooting, the best way for individuals to respond is to find a good hiding spot that is low to the ground, according to a Menlo Park martial arts instructor and self-defense expert.

“The bottom line is that people need to stay calm and stay low.”

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