La Cañada High school administrators are drawing lessons from school shootings and campus threats, so they can keep kids safe should the unthinkable happen at home.
After she’d heard about the Nov. 14 school shooting at Saugus High School — just 28 miles away from La Cañada — La Cañada Unified Chief Technology Officer Jamie Lewsadder started thinking what lessons could be learned and applied at local schools.
It’s the new normal, she and other administrators will say, thinking about what went wrong and what could have been done to prevent injuries and loss of life and then making sure La Cañada schools are prepared in the event of such an incident.
When a credible threat was reported at CSU Long Beach on Oct. 7, for example, the campus’ lockdown procedure was complicated by doors that had no internal locking mechanism. Students and teachers reportedly piled up classroom chairs to the ceilings to protect their classrooms.
“That’s not our story,” Lewsadder said of La Cañada High School. “We have a way for doors to be locked from the inside.”
This spring, the campus began replacing old badge-swipe door locks with wireless locks and an access control system that offers a few key features designed to enhance safety during an emergency. The contract cost about $973,000 to install devices on some 900 doors, plus additional ongoing software and technology costs.
Made by Allegion, the system records every time a door is opened, locked or unlocked. Lewsadder said the devices are networked and can be programmed individually or in a group by administrators or those with the proper authority to open, or not open, to specified users.
Now, doors can be locked from the office — in a lockdown scenario, for example — or from the inside.
“Imagine, in a panic situation, having to stick your head out to lock the door,” Lewsadder said of the old locking mechanism. “With this system they push a button and it flashes red, and it’s locked.”
Now that door locks are under the purview of LCUSD’s Technology department, Lewsadder can track activity from her computer and see when a door’s battery is low and needs to be recharged.
The installation was finished this summer, but now Lewsadder is working with LCHS 7/8 Principal Jarrett Gold and 9-12 Principal Jim Cartnal to develop a protocol for reporting and responding to emergencies that will correspond with the new technology and can be practiced by school staff.
Cartnal said many of the recommendations of a districtwide safety, security and well-being task force formed last year are being implemented at LCHS, from a new Wellness Center to an increased security staff and the automatic locking system, which is a big deal on campus.
“In my former classroom I had to go outside, swipe my key card and make sure the door was locked, none of which you’d want to do if one of these horrific situations happened or danger was nearby,” the principal said.
The locks will also work in tandem with the district’s new Catapult software, which allows employees and schools to communicate with each other and issue commands and notifications to first responders without having to relay information through public address systems.
Lewsadder said that capability can help in a scenario like the Saugus High School incident, which happened very quickly.
“The biggest challenge is making sure we send first responders to exact locations,” she said. “That shooting was over in 60 seconds — reporting out is the big thing we want to work on.”
Cartnal said school shootings, wherever they may happen, are becoming part of every student’s reality. When the Saugus High School shooting happened, LCHS students created a banner of support and had it sent to the Santa Clarita campus.
Doing everything possible to keep that from happening in La Cañada is imperative to all involved.
“These events have come onto the landscape, not only of American education but America itself and make us think about places that heretofore have been safe,” he said. “Secondary schools are facing this. Our students are wondering what to do. It is very much front of mind.”