Parents at odds over grade-school fencing

Parents faced off this week over whether to put fencing up at three elementary schools.

Some spoke before the Newport-Mesa Unified School District board of trustees Tuesday in support of putting up fencing at Adams, Victoria and Roy O. Anderson elementary schools, while others said doing sowould make the open neighborhood elementary schools seem institutional.

"The district has long prided itself on the outdoor park-like environment of school campuses," a district staff report said. "Over the years, however, most of the elementary schools have had fencing added to address safety and other concerns."

The majority of parents opposing the fencing live in the neighborhood near Anderson.

"It would give the school an institutionalized feeling," resident David Bolt said. "I don't think we have a lot of people passing by and going through the school yard where parents would be concerned."

After hearing overwhelming dissent for fencing at Newport Beach's Anderson, the board voted 6 to 1 to postpone its decision, with Trustee Katrina Foley dissenting. However, trustees did approve fencing at Adams and Victoria, both of which are in Costa Mesa.


Sandy Hook Starts Conversation

The district began talking about school security after the Sandy Hook school shooting in December. Adams, Victoria and Anderson are the only three of the district's 22 elementary schools that do not have fencing around the instructional areas, said district spokeswoman Laura Boss.

The district circulated a survey to the three school communities and surrounding neighbors in October to gauge preferences on fencing options for each campus.

More than 600 people took the survey with the lion's share — 374 — coming from the Anderson community. Results show that 174 people took the survey regarding the fencing at Adams and 114 responded from the Victoria area.

Of the Anderson community respondents, 62% opposed building any type of fencing on the campus.

The majority of the Adams and Victoria communities voted in support of additional fencing.

Foley advocated for taking additional time to discuss fencing at both Adams and Anderson because of their open, park-like feel. However, her colleagues did not agree.

"We don't want our quaint neighborhood schools to feel like institutions," she said. "The least amount of fencing is what I support, but of course, we all want kids to be safe."

The security situation is different at Victoria because it is on a street with speeding cars and a higher volume of foot traffic, she said.

A report district staff circulated before the meeting recommended that trustees approve the fencing plans at each of the elementary schools. However, after the majority of parents and neighbors at the meeting said they were vehemently opposed to fencing around Anderson, trustees decided to study the situation further before making decisions.

District officials will work with the Newport Beach Police Department, Anderson school administration, staff, parents and community members as part of the analysis process, Boss said.


Wrought iron vs. chain-link

Newport-Mesa staff proposed using wrought iron fencing rather than chain-link at the streetscape entrance of the campuses and adjacent to housing to maintain the "aesthetic appeal of the schools in the community." However, chain-link would be used in some interior areas to help control cost, said Paul Reed, the district's deputy superintendent and chief business official.

The fencing would also be equipped with panic bars that would allow students and faculty to exit the school quickly in an emergency, Reed said.

The projects are estimated to cost between $250,000 and $350,000 at each campus, according to district documents.

Anderson parents, like Robert Pfeif, who spoke during the meeting, said they believe having a fence around the school could be more dangerous for their children than an open campus.

"In an emergency, those kids are trapped like rats," he said of enclosed campuses.

Pfeif said it's adult supervision, not a metal barrier, that makes him feel safe sending his children to school.

"Don't just build a scarecrow that makes you feel like you did something," he urged trustees.

Trustee Walt Davenport said he reluctantly supports researching other options for the Anderson campus.

"I think time is of the essence on all of this," he said. "We need security in the form of some sort of physical barrier."

Todd Ellis, whose son attends kindergarten at Adams, spoke angrily to the board and sometimes shouted at meeting attendees to emphasize his support of fencing at the schools.

"It's absolutely ridiculous to me that we're even discussing this," he said Wednesday. "The school board is letting the community make decisions for them."

His 4-year-old son has been able to run off campus three times since he started school in September, something that a fence would have prevented, he said.

Ellis, originally from Baton Rouge, La., said he chalks up the obsession with the cosmetic aspect of the fences to a larger issue with Orange County culture.

"Californians are always so concerned about how things look," he said. "They're more concerned with what [the fence] looks like than the safety of young children."

The district plans to begin nstalling the fencing at Victoria and Adams next year, Boss said.

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