Board approves fence at Andersen

Newport-Mesa Unified School District trustees Tuesday approved plans to add fencing and look into installing security equipment at Roy O. Andersen Elementary School.

During a special meeting, the board voted 6 to 0, with Trustee Katrina Foley absent, to fence the front and sides of the school, as well as the perimeter of the blacktop area in the back. The plan leaves the grassy area behind the campus open for public use.

The district will redesign the front doorway and lobby area of the school, relocate the principal's office and create a consistent visitor-screening process to prevent people from walking onto the campus without checking in at the main office.

The project is expected to cost about $500,000.

District staff will also explore installing video recording devices at the school, said Supt. Fred Navarro.

The board's decision came after little public comment Tuesday. However, in previous meetings with trustees, parents and community members rallied against having fencing at the school. Many parents believed that it would take away from the open, community feel of the campus.

"While safety is always our first priority, we do want to take the neighborhood's concerns into consideration," said board President Karen Yelsey. "The school is unique because everyone who goes to school there lives right there in the community."

The board also voted 6 to 0 to look into various aesthetic improvements that could be made to the Andersen campus.

The district began discussing school security after the Sandy Hook shootings in Newtown, Conn., in December 2012. Of the district's 22 elementary schools only Adams, Victoria and Andersen have lacked fencing around instructional areas.

Nearly a year later, the board approved fencing at Adams and Victoria elementary schools, which are both in Costa Mesa.

Fencing at Andersen, at 1900 Port Seabourne Place in Newport Beach, was also discussed, but after hearing overwhelming objections from parents — at meetings and in a survey — trustees voted to postpone their decision.

Parents and other residents living near the campus gathered hundreds of signatures on a petition in support of hiring an outside consultant to study school safety with the hope that a fence wouldn't be necessary at Andersen.

In March, the board voted to spend $5,987 for Safe Havens International to survey the school's security, according to district documents.

Safe Havens looked at Andersen's crisis response plans and safety policies and procedures. Company representatives also visited the school to evaluate the design of the campus, security measures, control systems and procedures, and the culture of the school and the surrounding area.

Ultimately, Safe Havens was unable to identify a security alternative to fencing significant portions of the Andersen campus, according to a summary of its findings.

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.

Over the past several months, trustees weighed several placement options for the fence at Andersen.

They considered placing the fence around the perimeter of the school, including the grass field behind the campus, or along the district's property line. The first option wasn't feasible because it included property that belongs to the city. The second option would have bisected the field, ultimately rendering it unusable, trustees said.

Community members who live near Adams were disappointed that district staff's recommendations were different for the two schools. Trustees decided at a previous meeting that leaving the field behind Adams unfenced would pose a significant danger to students who often use the field during recess.

Costa Mesa resident Martie Omeara read a letter written by another community member, Kathy Esfahani, during public comment Tuesday night.

"You are not applying the same safety standards at Andersen and Adams," she read. "And you are obviously applying different criteria in making these two fencing decisions."

Board members moved forward but responded to Esfahani's concerns before making their decision.

Trustee Judy Franco said the board decided to put the children first at both schools. Members didn't have the option to fence the whole field, partly owned by the city, at Andersen and chose not to dissect it.

"I simply could not take away space that is so badly needed by kids," she said.

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