After a heated debate among Newport-Mesa Unified School District trustees, community members and parents Tuesday afternoon, the board voted 5 to 2 to change the proposed location of fencing around Adams Elementary to include the blacktop and grassy area behind it.
The issue seems to boil down to preserving openness and recreational access for the community or providing the best security for students in the wake of incidents of school violence across the country.
In November, the board approved a plan that included fencing at the front and sides of the Costa Mesa school that would extend to the edge of the blacktop at the rear, not including the grassy area.
In response to that decision, Adams parents organized meetings to urge district officials to change the plan by extending the fencing past the blacktop to include the grassy area, which would allow children access during recess and lunch.
After discussions with the community and staff at Adams, district staff recommended that the board vote to include the field when the fence is constructed.
During the vote Tuesday, board President Karen Yelsey and trustee Katrina Foley dissented.
At the beginning of the meeting, Yelsey said, "Good fences make good neighbors," quoting Robert Frost's poem "Mending Wall."
She said that although people have different opinions about fencing at Adams, 2850 Clubhouse Road, she hoped the situation wouldn't divide the community.
Fencing at the elementary school sparked significant debate after parents expressed concern that they weren't adequately represented in a districtwide survey that staff used to ascertain preferences for increased campus security.
During the vote in November, trustees moved also to fence Victoria Elementary School in Costa Mesa. The board also discussed fencing Roy O. Andersen Elementary in Newport Beach, but was met with significant resistance from parents and other community members and decided to postpone the decision.
"Schools always try to be good neighbors, and school grounds are generally made available to the community for after-hours use, but the safety and security of students must come first," the staff report states.
About 20 people addressed the board during the special meeting Tuesday, with parents speaking in favor of the revised plan and other community members urging the board to keep the field open for public use.
Ronald Tymins, who has lived in the Mesa Verde area for 39 years, spoke against the staff recommendation, saying the community relies on the area for recreational purposes.
"We have people that go there to fly kites, play soccer, play softball and baseball, walk their dogs," he said. "This is an area that the community uses and depends on."
Board member Vicki Snell said, "I resent anyone who thinks that we don't care what the community thinks about this, but we have to protect the children as best we can."
Alison Walske, a fifth-grade teacher at Adams, spoke in favor of fencing in the field, saying that fencing that cuts across the blacktop could create a bottleneck if an emergency forced students to leave campus quickly.
"If that occurred, we could be costing student lives," she said. "Students are our number one priority."
Supt. Fred Navarro said the district will take steps to ensure that the field will continue to be available to residents after the school day and on weekends.
District staff will also put together a committee to discuss the style of fence, Navarro said.
The district will spend $350,000 to fence the elementary school, according to the staff report.
"We need to figure out how we're going to maximize student safety and maximize community access," the superintendent said. "We will create a plan and a perimeter that is attractive and enhances any fence, so it is more appealing."
Andersen fencing still up for discussion
After months of public meetings and discussion, the issue of fencing at Andersen Elementary will return to the Newport-Mesa school board agenda July 8.
In March, the board voted to spend $5,987 for Safe Havens International to visit the school and determine the necessary steps to ensure student and staff safety, according to district documents.
The details of the visit were outlined in a seven-page summary report released by the district last week.
Safe Havens was unable to identify a security alternative to fencing significant portions of the Andersen campus, according to the summarized report.
The district declined to release the full 80-page report to the public, citing security concerns, said district spokeswoman Laura Boss.
In the report, the company noted that Andersen "lacks anything resembling appropriate access control, particularly during student arrival and dismissal."
"Open campus design of this school creates a dramatically increased risk exposure to a variety of types of acts of violence," the report states.
Residents living near the campus, at 1900 Port Seabourne Place, gathered hundreds of signatures on a petition in support of hiring an outside consultant to study school safety instead of simply erecting a fence, which they say would take away from the open, community feel of the school.
Safe Havens looked at Andersen's crisis response plans and safety policies and procedures. Officials also visited the school for a day and a half to evaluate the design of the campus, security measures, control systems and procedures, and the culture of the school and the surrounding area, according to Safe Havens' proposal approved by the school board.
District staff have not yet submitted a recommendation to the board for approval, Boss said.