Even after they drop their children off at school, many parents worry about their safety — and news of another campus shooting only magnifies those concerns.
In the wake of Wednesday’s south Florida high school shooting that killed at least 17 students and faculty and injured 14, San Luis Obispo County parents may be wondering what kinds of safety measures their children’s schools have in place.
The Tribune talked to five different school districts around the county to find out how they prepare for active shooter-type situations.
If an active shooter were to enter a Lucia Mar Unified School District school, parents would be notified in a new way this year: through an app.
The South County school district launched a free app this school year that will send a text, push notification or email to parents’ phones whenever their student’s school goes into lockdown, assistant superintendent Andy Stenson said.
The app works for both iPhones and Android devices.
“With the app, parent communication is much improved now,” Stenson said.
For those without the app, the district’s existing auto-caller system is also still in use to contact students’ emergency numbers.
The school district, which serves 10,470 students ranging from kindergarten to 12th grade, has also taken steps in recent years to help prepare for situations like what occurred this week in Florida.
Each of the district’s 18 schools hold lockdown drills four times a year, Stenson said, and at least once a year a local police officer visits during those lockdowns to observe. The officer will then offer feedback to the school principal on how well everyone did and what should be improved.
“We are actually constantly evaluating our procedures based on that,” Stenson said.
Those agencies also annually host an active shooter response training each summer at one of the district’s schools where police train on how they should respond to an emergency situation. (The last was held at Arroyo Grande High School in July.)
Stenson said one of the chief challenges of the quarterly lockdown drills is communicating their importance to students without frightening the younger kids.
“You certainly don’t want to scare them,” he said. “But unfortunately, it’s a real threat in the United States at this time, and we can’t ignore it.”
Though he said he could not speak on specific lockdown procedures due to safety concerns, Stenson did say that the district has taken steps in recent years to improve the technology available in classrooms during emergency events.
Beside upgrading the security camera systems at its schools and adding devices on classroom doors to allow teachers to lock them from the inside, the school also recently purchased “lockdown kits” filled with emergency water, food, a first-aid kit, and other necessities in the event a school is locked down for a significant amount of time.
The kits, which cost $75 a piece, will be placed in every classroom in the district, Stenson said.
Overall, Stenson said given these measures, the district is well-prepared to handle any potential emergency event.
“If that were to occur, we feel confident in the process and procedures we have in place,” Stenson said.
San Luis Obispo, Los Osos and Morro Bay
Kimberly McGrath, assistant superintendent of San Luis Coastal Unified School District, said that when it comes to getting the latest, most reliable information in the event of an active shooter, the school district — and not social media — should be parents’ first choice.
While critical information can be shared on social media, she said that often, “it creates more problems than it does solutions” by contributing to the spread of misinformation.
Another key way for parents to get important information comes when they register their student at the beginning of the year; parents are given the choice of whether they want to be contacted by the school through whatever number they provide.
“We encourage families to do that,” McGrath said.
Each school in the district has a safety plan aligned with best practices “that has gathered input from police departments, Homeland Security, etc.,” McGrath said.
Each school has a designated off-campus site to which students would be evacuated in the event of an active shooter situation, in order to avoid traffic snarls at the school that could delay emergency responders.
“It’s important for families to know that student safety is one of our top priorities,” McGrath said.
The most important tool the school district has, she said, is its staff, who “work on forming deep relationships with students.”
Those relationships allow students to feel comfortable talking about what they see and could help the district prevent a tragedy.
“Relationships are probably the best line of defense,” she said.
The three major North County school districts all have slightly different active shooter procedures in place.
Templeton Unified School District has changed its emergency protocols over the past two years, after a February 2016 bomb threat hoax prompted officials to evacuate Templeton High School.
“We used that as a learning lesson,” said Superintendent Joe Koski.
Koski said a team from the district attended Federal Emergency Management Agency training, which they used to develop a new safety plan with local authorities.
Emergency procedures are identical across the district’s campuses, although they’re tailored to specific situations, he said. Students undergo safety drills as frequently as once a month, and the district is trying to incorporate additional unplanned drills, Koski said.
The Templeton Education Foundation also helped the district purchase a portable trailer with supplies that could be used to set up evacuation or family reunification areas in case of a shooting, he said.
If an emergency were to occur, the district would notify parents immediately through a system that sends texts and emails with information, Koski said. He encouraged parents to make sure their information is up to date, so officials can reach them easily.
He urged parents to be wary of rumors spreading on social media during emergencies and wait for accurate information from the district. In addition, Koski said parents shouldn’t rush to their child’s school during an emergency, as their vehicles could back up traffic and prevent first responders from reaching those in need of help.
Atascadero Unified School District facilities would go into a complete lockdown if an active shooter made it onto campus, according to Curt Eichperger, the district’s assistant superintendent for human resources. The district also has shelter-in-place protocols, in case an incident were to occur near a school site.
In addition to earthquake and fire drills, all schools practice a yearly lockdown drill, he said.
“Each school site has established procedures for student/parent reunification in the event of any major disaster or mass shooting scenario,” Eichperger said in an email. “The way in which reunification will occur depends on a number of factors, including recommendations from law enforcement at the time of the incident and whether there will be access to the site at which the incident occurred.”
Paso Robles Joint Unified School District recently began incorporating a new training protocol to help staff know how to respond to active shooter-type situations, according to Kristen Shouse, the district’s director of student services.
About 200 front line employees have learned A.L.I.C.E procedures, which instruct staff to alert, lock down, inform, counter and evacuate, and the district plans to train all employees.
“As the ‘A’ suggests, being alert is an incredibly important measure,” Shouse said in an email. “We conduct regular safety and security walks at our sites, which provide an even further evaluation and safeguard for our campuses.”
Paso Robles, like Templeton, also has a mass communication delivery system that would allow the district to call, text and email parents about emergency situations.
“It is an unfortunate time period in our world that these measures are necessary,” Shouse said. “But we will continue to train and prepare for these circumstances.”