Newport-Mesa Unified School District trustees voted Tuesday night to hire a nonprofit safety organization to study security at Andersen Elementary School in Newport Beach.
The district will spend $5,987 for Safe Havens International to visit the school and determine what it will take to ensure student and staff safety, according to the district's staff report.
Trustees began looking at fencing at three elementary schools, including Andersen, last year. Without significant complaint, they approved fencing at Adams and Victoria elementary schools in Costa Mesa in November, but received pushback from the Andersen community.
Parents and neighbors urged the district to hire a third-party security expert to make a recommendation for the small campus.
"We are pleased that the district has listened to what our concerns and issues are, and we're pleased they made a decision to sit with us and come to an agreement for what's best for the school," said parent Robert Pfeif.
Residents living near the campus, at 1900 Port Seabourne Place, gathered nearly 700 signatures on a petition in support of hiring an outside consultant to study school safety instead of simply erecting a fence, which they say would take away from the open, community feel of the school.
Michael Dorn, executive director with Safe Havens, will look at Andersen's crisis response plans and safety policies and procedures. It will also visit the school for a day and a half to evaluate the design of the campus, security measures, control systems and procedures, camera surveillance and the culture of the school and surrounding area, according to the proposal approved by the school board.
It's unclear exactly when Safe Havens will visit Andersen and make a recommendation to the board. District spokeswoman Laura Boss could not be reached for comment.
"There's a clear mandate that the majority of the neighborhood doesn't want a fence," Pfeif said. "But by the same token, what we all want is for Andersen to be as safe as possible in any and all situations that can occur at the school."
In February, the district invited representatives from the Orange County Intelligence Assessment Center, which is part of the Sheriff's Department, to present their thoughts on security at Andersen during a study session.
Center representative Martin Hanneman explained that Andersen's lack of a physical barrier outside opened the students and staff up to significant risk.
Even inside the school, Andersen remains one of the most open campuses in Newport-Mesa Unified, so students would have nowhere to hide if someone was to enter the school with violent intentions, he 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," he said at the study session.
Still, parents weren't convinced that a fence was necessary. They urged the district to seek alternatives.
After several meetings with parents and other members of the community surrounding the school, the district agreed to hire a group to assess the school's security measures, Trustee Martha Fluor said Wednesday.
Based on the information presented to the board, Fluor said she sees the need for a physical barrier that prevents open access to the school.
"It's our moral obligation to ensure to our parents that their children are safe when they go to school," she said.