Students may be taught to run, hide or fight

Newport-Mesa school officials have settled on a shortlist of tightened security options up for consideration, including running age-appropriate drills that teach students to run from, hide from or fight off intruders.

District staffers told the school board Tuesday that they recommend doubling or tripling the number of lockdown drills at each school and working with law enforcement to develop more detailed plans of what students should do if a gunman enters campus.

Schools currently run one lockdown drill per semester.

Using a Department of Homeland Security-funded video, "Run. Hide. Fight.," as a jumping-off point, Deputy Supt. Susan Astarita suggested teaching students how to escape their specific classrooms.

"The kids need to know they have permission to run," she said. "Elementary school kids are used to doing exactly what a teacher tells them to."

If they can't escape, they also need to be taught where to hide, Astarita added, and in a worst-case scenario, some older students may be taught to fight off an aggressor.

"It's got to be age-appropriate," she emphasized.

But that age-sensitive curriculum doesn't yet exist, Astarita said, pointing out that "Run. Hide. Fight." was produced for an office setting and caters to adults.

District staff plans to work with local law enforcement, and consult experts and individual school communities before making proposals for a school board vote.

Since the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School last month, Newport-Mesa has been reevaluating its safety procedures.

Dozens of options were thrown on the table during a study session last month, and staff briefed the school board Tuesday on the options they'd chosen to pursue.

Aside from the enhanced drills, they suggested requiring staff and students to wear ID badges at all times, installing silent intruder-alarm buttons at each school's front desk and telling teachers to keep classroom doors locked at all times.

With those safety changes could come infrastructure costs.

To keep classrooms locked at all times, each door would need an intruder-style lock that remains secure from the outside but easy to open from the inside.

About 80% of the classrooms in the district already have such doors, said Deputy Supt. Paul Reed.

Staff is also studying the cost of adding fencing and tightening the perimeter around school sites.

In the future, trustees will hear options for further limiting access to campuses, but board members have already said they are reluctant to pursue schools that look like prisons.

"I don't want kids [to be] afraid," board President Dana Black said. "That's the thing, we're just reminding them to be fearful."

Reed said staff will try to present plans that address an appropriate range of threats.

"I think we're talking about prudent measures to sort of avoid a number of [incidents] that could occur," he said. "Someone who is determined with an AK-47, we can't stop."

Twitter: @jeremiadobruck

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