Andersen security? Trustees still on the fence

After listening to reports from several local agencies urging Newport-Mesa Unified School District trustees to approve fencing at Andersen Elementary School, the board directed staff to continue drafting plans for the project.

However, trustees did not approve the project in its entirety during a study session Tuesday.

"Now that we know our areas of concern, we need to see what we can afford," said Trustee Dana Black.

The proposed fencing would cover the perimeter of the campus and extend as far as the edge of the blacktop, leaving the field area unfenced, according to the district's renderings.

The fencing would also have several "panic bars" accessible from the inside that would allow students and staff to exit the campus quickly in an emergency, said Tim Marsh, the district's facilities director.

The board most recently discussed the issue in November, when it approved fencing at Adams and Victoria elementary schools, which are both in Costa Mesa.

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

More than 600 people took the survey in October, with the majority — 374 — coming from the Andersen community.

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

The district began talking about school security after the Sandy Hook school shootings in December 2012. Of the district's 22 elementary schools, only Adams, Victoria and Andersen do not have fencing around instructional areas, said district spokeswoman Laura Boss.

Chatom Arkin lives near the school and described the community as "quintessentially American and perfect." He said placing a fence around the campus would restrict community members from taking their children to play at the school.

"It's going to change our community and the culture that exists there," he said. "Andersen is a small school, a safe school."

However, representatives from the Orange County Intelligence Assessment Center, which is part of the Sheriff's Department, presented a different perspective of security at the school.

"Andersen is a very open campus," center representative Martin Hanneman said. "Once you get into the main building, you're in. Many of the classrooms don't have walls, so hiding is not an option. You either have to run or act" in the event of someone threatening violence.

Each of the district's schools teach students to run or hide if an active shooter should appear.

Officials also said building a fence would give staff and students several minutes to prepare themselves in an emergency.

"During a school shooting, two to four people are killed every minute," Hanneman said. "Every single minute is very important."

While the majority of crimes that occur near the school are thefts and burglaries — no violent offenses have been reported in the past year — a fence would give staff and parents peace of mind, said Andi Querry, a crime prevention specialist for the Newport Beach Police Department.

"I looked at the security there, and I'm encouraged that a fence would add another level of protection," she said. "Unfortunately, in our community we've seen active shooters a few times."

Jennifer Manzella, spokeswoman for the Newport Beach Police Department, disputes the assessment, saying there have not been active shooting cases in Newport Beach. 

Trustees also approved in a 4-3 vote having staff look into the cost of hiring armed guards or police officers at the school.

Adams fencing meeting

The fencing at Adams also continues to spark debate among parents and the community.

Parents who are unhappy with the board's designs for fencing at Adams are hosting a meeting at 6 p.m. Feb. 13 at Estanica High School to discuss how to approach the district about it.

More than 150 parents are pushing for the fencing to be extended past the blacktop to include the grassy area behind the school, allowing children access during recess and lunch, said parent Diedre Stary.

She said the results of the district's survey weren't representative of the parents' wishes, but instead catered to the surrounding community members who wanted the field open after school hours.

"A large majority of our families are English-second-language and don't even use the Internet," she said. "They didn't know about the survey until after the decision was made."

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