School district studies security

Newport-Mesa’s school board has laid all the options on the table for tightening school security after a shooting at Fashion Island Saturday and a deadly shooting in Connecticut Friday.

After the Sandy Hook tragedy in which 20 children and six adults were killed at a school and an incident in which a man allegedly let of 50 rounds from a handgun in Newport Beach, Newport-Mesa Unified School District trustees asked staff and law enforcement officials to brief them on safety plans.

Over the next few months, trustees will weigh options on how campus security can improve. And Tuesday, they left nothing off the table, including the possibility of arming teachers.

“I just wondered what your opinion is as a police force, having people who would volunteer to have training to have guns in schools,” board Vice President Karen Yelsey asked.

Newport Beach Deputy Chief David McGill hedged his response.

“Arming teachers, that again, is something worthy of discussion,” McGill said. “I come from that world of being trained and carrying a firearm. ... In this situation I don’t want to commit to it and say it’s the right thing to do because I’m not sure it is.”

Newport-Mesa Federation of Teachers President Kimberly Claytor objected to the idea, telling the board to instead advocate for stricter gun regulations and focus on material improvements to school sites such as insuring all classrooms have functioning doors and locks.

While guns were briefly mentioned, trustees spent the majority of their time hearing about possible communications and infrastructure improvements like adding fencing, installing security cameras, funneling school access to one point or building a silent-alarm system.

“Every little bit that you add and is seen by somebody on the outside as a measure to increase safety — it’s just like any criminal out on the street, they’ll go to an easy target,” McGill said.

The board will consider concrete plans at a later meeting when staff returns with suggestions.

One firmer development is the likely return of Costa Mesa school resource officers who would work with students, assess safety and work on campuses full time.

Costa Mesa Police Chief Tom Gazsi announced he plans to restart the program in spring as staffing levels rise, and the district is ready and waiting for that to happen.

Money is still in the budget for two Costa Mesa SROs to match the two already in Newport Beach, Deputy Supt. Paul Reed said.

Costa Mesa has been without any SROs since 27-year-veteran Officer Jess Gilman retired in October.

As for structural improvements, Reed said trustees will have to weigh the benefit of each possible plan. He advised that most suggestions will be one-time installation expenses but cautioned that money is still tight.

“Many of the things that have been discussed are quite expensive,” he said. "…There’s a great deal of balance that will have to be dealt with here as we move forward.”

Kurt Nii, whose son attends Sonora Elementary School in Costa Mesa, demanded that the district lay out some timelines by the end of the year.

During public comment, he pleaded with board members to remember human costs over financial ones.

“I hear it’s costly. You tell my kid when he’s gone it’s costly,” Nii said, pausing repeatedly as his voice caught. “I’ll finance my house. I’ll do whatever. I don’t want to hear about this cost any more. Let’s do fundraisers. Let’s do it. This is what will get things done. The community will do it — guaranteed.”

Twitter: @jeremiahdobruck