School district makes changes following Team 10 investigation

Update: Team 10 got results. The Poway Unified School District said they will make changes following our investigation. Read more on what the district plans to do and see their response to the story at the end of the article.


Team 10 looked into safety at an alternative school inside the Poway Unified School District after a tip about the lack of security.

Sources said the issues had been brought to the attention of district administrators and ignored for at least a year.
 
After getting the tip, Team 10 walked into New Directions with a photojournalist who had his camera in plain sight, and a reporter who had a microphone clearly marked 10News.

Team 10 walked down the the main hallway and stopped into a learning center where kids were working. Next, Team 10 walked out of the building and back in through a back door, went back into the learning center and then was approached by a staff member who asked if she could help.

Team 10 asked if there was a school resource officer on site and the woman laughed.

"You picked the wrong place," said the New Directions staff member.
 
Staff members said 200 students attend New Directions -- an independent study program in the Poway Unified School District that shares a campus with the Poway Adult School.
 
The school district called it an "open campus" concept - like a college. But sources said the problem is that it’s too open.

They told Team 10 too many adult students and people walk in off of the street and into New Directions, apparently thinking it’s part of the adult school.
 
Team 10 obtained an email thread between New Directions staff members and administration from last year.
 
One staffer wrote, "Currently daily we have strangers walking into our study area and classrooms asking for directions, etc."
 
Another wrote, "All other campuses have a locked entry, visitors must go through a sign-in process and get a badge to enter the campus. We do not."
 
A third wrote, "There's no safety for anyone, students or staff. Do something now!!!"

Emails obtained through the California Public Records Act where staff members complain to district officials about the lack of security, plus the response from Personnel Support Services Director David Hall with the Poway Unified School District:

That is great DO has such a great security system and it sounds like the schools do too.  Too bad no thoughts have been expressed to make New Directions even somewhat secure.  We continue to have people walking in our doors and sitting at tables reserved for students as a daily issue.  The only security we have is what we as teachers provide.   All of the plans we submitted last yr. to the Innovation U seemed to have been ignored.  However, good to know the DO that houses all adults is safe, and a program that serves kids from 10 to 20 has little to no security.

--

I appreciate ... writing this and think it is important that key people at the District truly understand the need New Directions has for safety. 

The majority of our students are here because they are at-risk; it would only follow that staff members
who work here daily and deal with things administrators do not even know about provide feedback on how we can protect students and staff. 

We have numerous entrances, limited clerical staff, and people walking in and out all day long – throughout the building – along with thoselingering outside all day long. 

All we ask is that, as a unique site with a unique situation,  the District address us personally.

--

I was not aware that New Directions does not have a sign in system and can understand your frustration.  I am trying to find out why that is and what security measures were recommended for New Directions from the work we had done last year.  Once I find out, I will follow up with both of you.  Understand the system at our district office was a small part of our district wide plan to strengthen school safety. 

Thanks, David Hall

Team 10 talked to a mother with four children in the Poway Unified School District, including her 17-year-old, Shafiek, at New Directions. She declined to be named, but allowed Team 10 to talk to her son.
 
"It means anyone if he was carrying a gun or anything he could just walk in and no one would ask what he is doing," said Shafiek.
 
Last year, a student at the adult school threatened to shoot students. At the time, San Diego County Sheriff's Deputies said he made a motion with his hand like a gun and referenced Columbine. He was arrested, but never charged.
 
A mother told Team 10 her husband brought up security concerns to a school long before that incident last year. She said they approached an administrator after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in 2012.
 
"He promised that he's going to put police and a guard or somebody at the entrance and the gate has to be closed,” the woman said. “And anybody who goes in, he has to sign and nothing happened."

Shafiek said he wished there was more to protect students at New Directions.

"There should at least be cameras and someone making sure you sign in," he said.
 
Security upgrades have been made at the Poway Unified School District headquarters.

An email from October 11, 2013 states:

Dear Team PUSD:

As you know the District Office is a busy place and checking in can sometimes be a slow process.  PUSD employees visiting the District office can now use a new security system to check in starting Tuesday, October 15th.

This new system will allow employees to type their name into our District database and be issued a printed identification badge which lists:

  • The visitor’s name
  • Meeting location within the District office
  • Date and time of the meeting

This updated visitor entry system is part of PUSD’s on-going safety and security efforts and is very similar to the systems most of our schools currently have in place.   

Thanks for your patience and cooperation as we implement this new process.

David Hall
Director
Personnel Support Services

Emails from New Directions staff members to Personnel Support Services Director David Hall point out that the school does not have any of the same security measures as the district office and listed all of the things they want to see done at the school.

Several staff members came up with numerous ways to make the school more secure in an email thread obtained by Team 10 from April of 2013, but sources told Team 10 none of the ideas were ever implemented.

Hall then wrote this email to the Director of Facilities and Maintenance, Mike Tarantino:

This was a frustrated e-mail from the New Direction folk that was prompted by the district wide announcement I sent regarding the new check in procedure at our district office.  What were the security measures New Directions requested from the meetings that happened last year?  They are frustrated either by perceived lack of response to their concerns, or their overall situation.  Is there anything I can tell them?

David

Sources said Tarantino told Hall the district would be installing fences and a chime at the doors at New Directions.

"The bell - it's not enough," said Shafiek.

The Poway Unified School District refused an on-camera interview because they didn't want its security issues advertised.

Team 10 felt ignoring the story was worse.

The director of communications told Team 10 there have been security upgrades at 38 or 39 schools in the district. New Directions is the only school still waiting for changes, but she would not say what the changes would be once they are made.

UPDATE
Team 10 got results. The Poway Unified School District said they will make changes following our investigation.

The school district is making one main entryway and adding a Help Counter Check-in System at "New Directions" alternative school in Poway.

The entryway and Help Counter Check-in System was never mentioned as upgrades by District Administrators in emails and a conversation thread between officials and New Directions staff members obtained by Team 10.

An administrator did mention adding fencing and a bell to a door in one email where an official inquired why changes to safety weren't made after suggestions by the staff.

Despite the district calling the story unethical, Team 10 felt it was irresponsible to ignore this story after emails show staff members have been expressing their fears about safety for more than one year.

DISTRICT'S RESPONSE TO QUESTIONS ASKED BY TEAM 10

Team 10 would like to request an interview with the Superintendent.

RESPONSE: We will not be participating in this story as we fundamentally disagree with its premise. The title of the story states, “the district doesn’t care” and this is absolutely untrue. The safety and security of our students, staff members and guests is of upmost importance to Poway Unified. It is in fact our sincere interest in maintaining site and department safety which led us to the decision to not participate in such a dangerous and unethical story presented by your station.

We'd also like a statement or response to these questions below. What is your response to:

Concerns that the New Directions campus is not secure from someone entering the building from several entry points.

RESPONSE: There are two entry points to the New Directions building: one for continuing students, and one for parents and new students. Plans are in place to redirect all visitors to a single point of entry.

Concerns that there is no sign-in sheet at New Directions, no SRO or security guard at New Directions, no security cameras at New Directions and an unlocked door that leads directly to the room for students at New Directions

RESPONSE: There is a sign-in sheet for students to sign as they enter the Learning Lab to meet with their teacher. Once the single point of entry is established, the Help Counter Check-in System will also be in place.

Concerned parents who say they took security concerns to an administrator at the district after the Sandy Hook shooting, who were assured there would be security changes, and who say nothing's been done.

RESPONSE: To date, not one administrator at New Directions has been contacted by a parent regarding a security concern.

Allegations that staff has asked for changes or upgrades to security at New Directions for two years.

RESPONSE: New Directions, like all school sites and departments in the District have safety plans, trainings and drills. The following is a review of the safety meetings which have taken place just this school year:

  1. October 21, 2013 – Delivery and review of Confidential Site Emergency Disaster Manual, Confidential Law Enforcement Emergency Disaster Manual, and Comprehensive School Safety Plan. Review of each manual and identified sections that needed to be completed by the site.
  2. November 1, 2013 – Same as above.
  3. November 13, 2013 – Twin Peaks Center Vulnerability Assessment completed by staff.
  4. February 12, 2014 – Staff met to review disaster plans and discussed what each department needed throughout the TPC.
  5. February 24, 2014 – Emergency Disaster Planning and Response In-service for New Directions staff
  6. March 3, 2014 – Emergency radio and walkie talkie training at New Directions staff meeting. .
  7. March 7, 2014 – CTAE Emergency Disaster Planning and Response in-service.
  8. April 24, 2014 – Site Disaster Drill scheduled at the TPC.

Concerns that an adult student on the same campus threatened to shoot up the school in October and no changes were made at the New Directions building.

RESPONSE: Changes to campus security plans happen following such events. The District takes each and every report and event seriously and consults with staff and law enforcement to modify and improve upon site safety plans.

Concerns that 38 of the 39 schools on the Poway Unified School district have undergone the security upgrade—leaving New Directions as the only school without changes, except for bells on the doors which parents and students call laughable.

RESPONSE: Security upgrades, including extensive fencing have been made to all campuses, including New Directions. Other details: Students of New Directions do not come at a specific time and leave at a specific time. 170 students come and leave at all different times throughout the day and week. 

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