SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - With schools across San Diego County starting a new academic year, district officials have been busy educating parents and students on campus safety.
For school districts, the safety of students is a top priority.
“In Chula Vista, we prioritize making sure we’re creating the best citizens we can and we want to make sure that is done in the safest environment possible,” said Jason Romero, Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources at the Chula Vista Elementary School District.
Last week the Chula Vista Elementary School district hosted a safety meeting with the Chula Vista Police Department. They discussed safety policies and procedures, and let parents ask questions about decision-making in critical situations.
“With 50 schools in the Chula Vista Elementary School District, there are times we need to lockdown. We error on the side of being safe,” Romero said.
Lockdowns and Secure Campus
School lockdowns, secure campuses, and safety drills are now a part of students’ educational lives.
To get an understanding of just how often schools are locking their doors, ABC 10News requested lockdown and secure campus reports for the past five years from districts across the county.
While we're still waiting for information from a handful of districts the reports, the reports we did get back give a glimpse into the challenging world of school safety.
Take Oceanside, district officials released records dating back more than 20 years. The records show a handful of lockdowns and secure campus events, the majority happening in the past five to six years. The records also show many of the security threats were not directly related to any school. Police activity in the area triggered what the district described as a modified lockdown.
In the Sweetwater Union High School District, records show at least 14 incidents since 2016.
Just last week school officials placed San Ysidro High School on a secure campus after alleged online threats. Threats that were eventually dismissed, but not before frightening moments for parents.
"All schools are required to have emergency procedures for armed intruder incidents and their staff has to be trained in it,” said Bob Mueller, interim Director of Safety and Student Engagement at the San Diego County Office of Education. “So, the school or school district can decide are we just going to train staff, are we going to involve students in drills.”
Not all districts had incidents that required a lockdown or secure campus. However, they do participate in lockdown and secure campus drills. Information ABC 10News got back from local school districts showed pages and pages of safety drills.
The records also showed the delicate balance between the need for drills and students' emotions.
At the end of last school year, records from the Santee School District showed schools canceled planned drills due to community anxiety from the tragedy in Uvalde.
Experts say having open dialogues with students can have a lasting impact on how they feel while at school.
“We definitely want to empower them to know what to do to help keep themselves safe, and that feeling of empowerment for many kids will increase the perception of safety and that they’d know what to do, which is great,” said Dr. Franci Crepeau-Hobson, School Psychology Professor and Program Director at the University of Colorado Denver. “However, if we’re not having conversations with kids about why do we do this, if we don’t include that as part of the training, then we do run the risk that maybe kids won't feel as safe and secure.”
“This has gotten more challenging year over year for sure,” said Greg Mizel, Associate Superintendent of Student Support Services at Poway Unified.
Secure campus and lockdowns are just two of the tools in the district's safety plans.
Last week leaders at Poway Unified let ABC 10News tag along as they went on school vulnerability walks. A group of leaders from the district and campus officials walked the grounds of several campuses looking for points where schools are vulnerable and areas where safety can be improved.
“We walk the entire perimeter and look at a whole punch-list of items to ensure that there’s nothing that we’re missing from site to site, and then with a master list of concerns that are generated we’ll go through a process identifying our priorities and cost out funding,” said Mizel.
Mizel says the process keeps them in front of a bad day. Simple outings allow the district to craft a plan and stay ahead of potential problems.
"There's a hundred different scenarios where you're working to get kids out of buildings where you're working to get students and staff into buildings,” said Mizel.
Poway gave ABC 10News 36 pages of messages sent to parents every time a school went into lockdown. For them, communication is key.
“There’s a lot of different scenarios when it comes to a bad day. It might be a fire, it might be a crime that occurs in proximity to a school where you have to go to shelter in place. It might be an active shooter, which is everyone’s worst fear,” Mizel said.
Mizel says when you’re dealing with student safety, it’s better to be ahead of the curve.
"It’s doing our due diligence, it's being prudent, it's staying in front. It's trying to anticipate and respond now versus being on our heels and having to react,” Mizel said.