Columbine survivor says children are safer in schools now

San Diego Unified Plans to add security measures

SAN DIEGO - "The first thing I wanted to do was go pick my kid up," said Stephanie Parker as she recalled her reaction after learning that 20 children had been killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.

"Our kids are our main concern," Parker added as she fought back tears.  "After being in Columbine, you get a little concerned because you know what happens. You know the chaos."

Parker was a senior at Columbine High School in 1999 when two teenagers opened fire, killing 12 students and a teacher and injuring 21 others. 

"We were in class and started hearing gunshots, and everybody got really scared and some of us were able to get out," she said.

Parker is now a mother. Her son goes to Chesterton Elementary School in Kearny Mesa. She says he is safe there.

"Everything has changed since Columbine and other schools," said Parker. "The schools have increased their security and they've gone through everything with their teachers and the principal and staff and everything to teach these teachers how to handle situations better than other schools that this has happened in."

Parker told 10News that in spite of all the safety improvements at schools, if a person is determined to hurt or kill others, there is nothing that can stop him.

Other parents from Chesterton School told 10News they also feel their children are safe, but parent Tracy Bryan thinks there should be metal detectors at the school and a greater police presence to deter people who want to do harm.

"I don't think we want to make our children feel like they're attending school in a prison or a fortress," said Bernie Rhinerson, who is chief of staff for the San Diego Unified School District.

Rhinerson said the district is installing security cameras on all campuses and is adding fencing, better lighting and other intrusion safeguards, which are being paid for through money raised through school bond measures. 

The district also received a $1 million federal grant to pay for surveillance cameras.

Another area that could use some improvement is communications. Some older schools in the district do not have an intercom to announce lockdowns or other dangerous scenarios. The district plans to install voice over internet protocols, or VOIP, systems in the near future.

The district has no plans to install metal detectors or bulletproof glass. The shooter in the Sandy Hook incident gained access to the locked school grounds by shooting out some glass near the school's front door.

"I think that they're doing the best they can," said Parker. "You know, aside from putting our kids in bubbles and having guards around every entrance, you really can't do better than what they're doing right now."

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