Newport-Mesa district and police assess school safety districtwide

Corona del Mar High School is one of 32 school sites in the Newport-Mesa Unified School District.
Corona del Mar High School is one of 32 school sites in the Newport-Mesa Unified School District.
(Photo by Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Newport-Mesa Unified School District administrators have visited about a third of their campuses to inspect infrastructure and security that would help protect students in the event of a shooting or other violent event.

Deputy Supt. Russell Lee-Sung, who is overseeing the districtwide study, updated the board of education Tuesday regarding actions the district has taken since the mass shooting at Parkland High School in Florida.

This involves reviewing infrastructure and strengthening partnerships with the Newport Beach and Costa Mesa police departments, which provide four school resource officers to local schools.

Lee-Sung opposes arming school employees.

“I would never recommend that but having trained police officers who are part of the Costa Mesa and Newport Beach police departments is where we get our support,” Lee-Sung said.

Britt Dowdy, president of the Newport-Mesa Federation of Teachers, said his membership concurs.

“Mr. Lee-Sung did a very good job outlining the programs that Newport-Mesa has provided for many years to provide a safe environment,” Dowdy said.

School Trustee Karen Yesley met Monday with Newport Beach Police Chief Jon Lewis, Supt. Fred Navarro and Phil D’Agostino, the district’s director of student and community services.

During the meeting, Lewis reaffirmed his officers’ commitment to protecting students, school employees and the general public.

“They’re equally concerned about the safety of our campuses,” Yelsey said.

School resource officers, commonly called SROs, have visited all but one school site, Lee-Sung added.

Lewis said he is pleased that Newport Beach police have a close working relationship with Newport-Mesa and its leadership team.

“We are in close contact with them on a daily basis through our school resource officers and patrol officers,” he said. “And, on occasion, I take the opportunity to meet with higher-level staff members from NMUSD to ensure that our ongoing work together (and any future endeavors) are on track.”

As part of the risk and threat assessments, school administrators will consider security-related upgrades, but not every suggestion from the Newport-Mesa community will be appropriate, he said.

“We don’t want to create prisons,” Lee-Sung said. “These are our schools. We want our parents to feel comfortable. We want our students to feel comfortable.”

After the safety review is completed, Lee-Sung wants everyone on campus to know what to do in an emergency, own and accept responsibility for their safety and collectively contribute to a caring environment.

Safety has been a recurring topic among parents and teachers during school board meetings this academic year, but concerns heightened after the Feb. 14 shooting in Florida.

Days after the shooting, Newport Beach police investigated a graffiti threat found on a desk in a seventh-grade classroom at Corona del Mar Middle School but deemed it not credible.

Last month, parents raised concerns about a drawing by a student at California Elementary School in Costa Mesa and called on the district to ramp up security measures.

Staff Writer Priscella Vega contributed to this report.

Daniel Langhorne is a contributor to Times Community News.

Twitter: @DanielLanghorne