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Newport-Mesa says its school safety methods have it ‘prepared to do what needs to be done’

In the wake of the recent high school shooting in Parkland, Fla., in which 17 people were killed, the Newport-Mesa Unified School District board heard from staff and school resource officers Tuesday about local school safety methods.

Those precautions, across the district's 32 schools, include resource officers from the Newport Beach and Costa Mesa police departments, suicide prevention training, controlled access to campuses, a social media presence, drills for staff and students, threat assessments and emergency response training with local law enforcement, officials said.

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Newport-Mesa also has a civility and disruptions policy under which parents are notified if their child is disruptive at school and could be barred from entering the campus. The California Penal Code allows a school to withdraw permission for such a person to enter for up to 14 days. The person may request a hearing on the matter within the two-week period.

In more serious cases, the district could petition a court for a restraining order, said Phil D'Agostino, district director of student and community services.

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In an emergency, while responders are moving on the call, district staff also is assessing the situation, D'Agostino said.

"We can manage safety very well," D'Agostino said. "We're prepared to do what needs to be done."

Four school resource officers from the Newport Beach and Costa Mesa police departments are dispatched to high schools. They also watch other schools in their zones, according to the district.

Costa Mesa High School Principal Jake Haley told of how two years ago, school resource officer Jose Torres helped find a student who posted on an anonymous social media app about a planned shooting during lunch in the school quad.

Torres said officials used a warrant to find out who posted the threat and identified the student within 24 hours.

"Even though it's supposed to be anonymous, there's no such thing," Torres said. "We'll find out who, when and where it was sent."

Principal Cheryl Beck of Eastbluff Elementary School in Newport Beach said school resource officer Gary Clemente is in frequent contact with school staff and students. Clemente attends campus gatherings, provides mentoring and walks with students to the campus on the first day of school.

Parent Charlene Gozony praised the district for its "robust program" and encouraged it to ban backpacks and install metal detectors.

"This is where we are now, this is the world we live in," Gozony said. "We can't tiptoe around it. We need to be more proactive in different ways."

Costa Mesa High School student Jerry Pacheco, 18, proposed similar solutions and presented research backing his claims. He suggested lockdown drills done at random in which students must run or hide and help barricade doors instead of crouching under desks, where they're "sitting ducks," he said.

"I know this sounds silly, but mass shootings are happening again and again," Pacheco said.

D'Agostino said staff in every division is working diligently to address all potential safety concerns, including "antiquated" campus layouts.

"No one can guarantee safety of all students at all times in all schools in America or in a community," D'Agostino said. "We'll continue to support all practices within our control and we'll continue to partner with law enforcement to promote safety of all students and staff."

After the Feb. 14 shooting in Parkland, threats to schools have been reported throughout the nation, including at Corona del Mar Middle and High schools, where Newport Beach police determined that a threat of violence seen in graffiti found on a desk in a seventh-grade classroom was not credible. Classes weren't canceled, though there was heightened police presence near the school, according to the district.

The campus is listed among those participating in the National School Walkout at 10 a.m. March 14, in which students and staff members plan to head to the nearest parking lot for 17 minutes to remember those who died in the Parkland shooting.

Suicide prevention education

In other business Tuesday, district trustees unanimously approved a $34,000 contract with New York-based Kognito to purchase licenses for its "At-Risk for Elementary School Educators" online simulation program for 22 district elementary schools.

According to the district, Kognito provides simulations focusing on things such as warning signs and how to approach and talk to a student in distress.

It is part of Newport-Mesa's program, approved last year, to educate students and staff members — including teachers, administrators, cafeteria workers and custodians — on ways to prevent youth suicide.

Twitter: @vegapriscella

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