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La Cañada Unified safety, security task force considers threat risk of school campuses

La Cañada Unified safety, security task force considers threat risk of school campuses
La Cañada Unified School District Executive Director of Pupil and Personnel Services Jim Cartnal speaks at a Sept. 27 meeting of the district's Safety, Security and Well-Being Task Force, a group convened to help minimize threats to schools through policy and procedural changes. (Photo by Sara Cardine)

La Cañada Unified School District campuses are too open, and security measures like closed-circuit TV cameras, fencing and door locks are worn and outdated, making schools vulnerable to threats from unknown and unvetted visitors, a threat assessment study recently determined.

A group of teachers, district officials, parents and students — members of the district’s Safety, Security and Well-Being Task Force — grappled with that summation on Sept. 27 as members shared updates on progress made since the group’s formation last spring.

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The task force first convened in May, in response to parent concerns about drug arrests, disciplinary issues and the threat of danger on the La Cañada High School campus. Members organized into five subcommittees of focus: student and staff training; traffic and parking; school site security; wellness, communication and outreach; and examining a closed-campus lunch period at LCHS.

“What are some of the outcomes we’d like to see come to fruition this year?” LCUSD Supt. Wendy Sinnette posed to the group. “We want to make sure the work of our subcommittees this year is very focused on our priorities.”

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Sinnette explained each group would develop recommendations in a districtwide plan that would be shared with the school board and ultimately school site teams, who would then adopt those priorities into future plans and requests for programming and funding.

The superintendent gave the group an April deadline for having an integrated LCUSD Wellbeing and Safety Plan ready to present to the board for possible implementation the following school year.

“The plan would be an output of the work of the five [subcommittees],” explained school board member Joe Radabaugh. “Ultimately, the plan should yield where we go and the solutions follow.”

To help get members thinking about improvements in their individual realms, chief technology officer Jamie Lewsadder shared the executive summary of a threat assessment conducted by Woodland Hills-based consultant Chameleon Associates.

In April, the school board approved hiring the firm to visit the district’s campuses, identify potential threats and collect staff concerns while reviewing emergency plans and addressing online and social media exposure.

A 50-page full report was presented to district officials, but Lewsadder explained the summary suggested five focus areas, including controlling access to school campuses and communicating more efficiently with students and staff in the event of an emergency.

The study found schools’ camera and PA systems were old and underutilized, that mandatory visitor check-in procedures were rarely followed or enforced and that teachers who reported troubling student behavior often didn’t get feedback from the district on what was being done.

Jim Cartnal, executive director of pupils and personnel for the district, mused much of what makes La Cañada Unified special — its focus on academic excellence, small-town community feel and relative lack of large-scale emergencies — often unintentionally translates to unwanted scenarios like stressed-out students and vulnerable campuses.

“Many of the things that are our strengths are also our weakness,” he said.

Task force subcommittees will meet individually with the next joint meeting scheduled for Nov. 6 at 6:30 p.m. at LCUSD headquarters, 4490 Cornishon Ave. A safety and security training for parents will take place Nov. 8 at La Cañada High School, 4460 Oak Grove Drive, also at 6:30 p.m.

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