In the weeks following a mass shooting at a high school in Florida that left 17 people dead and many injured, Orange County school districts are reviewing their safety protocols with an eye toward improvement.
With numerous national school shootings within the past several years, the process of analyzing and finalizing an adequate school safety program has become all the more crucial.
“School safety is something that doesn’t ever take a rest,” said Ian Hanigan, spokesman for the Orange County Department of Education.
Ed Howard, the Orange Unified School District executive director of student and community services, said that district is taking a “hard look” at current protocols. Irvine Unified, Santa Ana Unified and Newport-Mesa Unified school districts are also reviewing their safety plans.
Hanigan said each school annually updates its comprehensive safe school plan in accordance with California law. Part of these plans include responses to crises.
Districts then determine the adequacy of a proposed plan.
Individual plans differ based on various indicators such as number of students, how the school is configured and location.
However, there are aspects that the schools of each district generally utilize, like regular active-shooter drills and the use of school resource officers, who are sworn police who are active on campus.
Each district maintains ties with law enforcement.
Currently, all Orange Unified School District high schools and middle schools have unarmed security guards on campus. School resource officers are on campuses at various times, responding to all schools from kindergarten to high school.
Within the Newport-Mesa district, Costa Mesa has two school resource officers, one at Costa Mesa High School and another at Estancia High. Newport Beach has an officer dedicated to Corona del Mar High School and another at Newport Harbor High School.
Costa Mesa and Newport Beach police officials said they frequently practice active shooter drills in conjunction with local schools to prepare law enforcement, staff and students for an incident.
Gary Clemente, a Newport Beach Police Department school resource officer at Corona del Mar High School, said it’s important for people to remember that students are safe on campus.
“We need to talk about it and drill and prepare, but we don’t have to be scared that this is going to happen tomorrow,” Clemente said. “We’re far more likely to be killed in a car driving to school, the grocery store or the airport than at school.”
Clemente said as a school resource officer he has a unique opportunity to develop relationships with school staff, students and parents and investigate issues like bullying before they become major problems.
“We try to foster an environment where if there is an issue, they feel comfortable coming to us with it knowing that we’ll hear what they’re saying and take it seriously,” he said.
Irvine Unified School District spokeswoman Annie Brown said there’s a school resource officer for each high school. Resource officers also support the surrounding elementary and middle schools.
The district also has a dedicated middle school officer and DARE officers are frequently on elementary school campuses.
The increased shootings have also resulted in schools adopting new technologies.
Within the past year, Irvine implemented a Raptor screening system into all its schools. The system provides instant background checks on all visitors, including checks against county and state databases and the national sex offenders registry.
The screening system was created by Houston-based Raptor Technologies.
Santa Ana Unified schools are also using the technology and the Laguna Beach Unified School District began using it last year.
Santa Ana Unified went so far as to produce a video, “Surviving a School Shooting: Run, Hide, Fight,” to prepare school staff on what to do if there’s a shooting.
The “Run, Hide, Fight” training was provided to teachers and staff last week.
One of the video’s many messages is for staff to say something if they notice a student or coworker acting irregularly. This “see something, say something” tactic is similarly urged by other districts.
On Feb. 23, the Orange County School of the Arts, which is part of Santa Ana Unified, put its safety protocols into action when a man was shot multiple times near the school.
Michael Ciecek, dean of facilities and supervision, said the school went on lockdown for about an hour.
Parents were notified through a text messaging system that was adopted within the past year. Many parents showed their appreciation for the platform on the school’s Facebook page following the lockdown.
Ciecek said the school will conduct a violent intruder drill within the coming weeks and will look into installing more secure locking systems on school doors.
While the Orange County Department of Education doesn’t play a direct regulatory role in each district’s safety protocols, it does provide support to school staff.
Hanigan said the department holds workshops and training throughout the year, not just for active shootings, but for all safety issues, including earthquakes and fires.
The department holds the Safe Schools Conference annually in partnership with the county Sheriff’s Department and California Department of Education. Hundreds of educators and law enforcement personnel are provided with workshops to discuss trends in campus violence, active shooters, bullying and other safety topics.
Hanigan said the county department also has a crisis response network that deploys to a campus in the wake of a traumatic event. The group includes psychologists, nurses, social workers and other personnel.
“The idea is to support students and staff during and after emergencies,” Hanigan said.
The department is co-hosting an active-shooter response event along with county Supervisor Todd Spitzer and the Orange Unified School District from 6 to 7:30 p.m. March 6 at Canyon High School at 220 South Imperial Hwy., Anaheim.
Hanigan said the event was planned before the Parkland shooting. The presentation will have mature content and is “not suitable for children,” a flier says.
There will be an active shooter response demonstration, a panel discussion with the O.C. Sheriff’s Department and Anaheim police and the Orange County Health Care Agency will discuss how to cope with a shooting.
Staff writer Priscella Vega contributed to this report.