La Cañada Unified looks to beef up security in wake of Newtown

The recent elementary school massacre in Newtown, Conn., has prompted the La Cañada Unified School District to thoroughly scrutinize its security infrastructure and procedures.

“It makes us painfully aware of how vulnerable we are,” said board Vice President Ellen Multari.

President Scott Tracy agreed, saying such tragedies could strike anywhere.

“We need to look at our policies, at how we’re keeping our students safe. There are too many things that say it could happen here in La Cañada.”

After hearing pleas from several concerned parents during Tuesday night’s school board meeting, Supt. Wendy Sinnette said the district would take steps to ensure students are as safe as possible.

In particular, Sinnette said the district will seek the advice of a school security expert, survey the community for input and commission a Crisis Management Team to oversee necessary security changes.

Mike Leininger, La Cañada Unified's assistant superintendent of facilities and operations, met with a contractor over the winter break to discuss the possible installation of wrought-iron fencing at district schools. The contractor gave an estimate of $155,000 to $160,000.

Tanya Wilson, La Cañada High School’s safety officer, said the installation of fencing in the front of the LCHS campus, which she characterized as “just so open,” would help with security concerns.

“It doesn’t have to look like a prison,” Wilson said. “It doesn’t have to look ugly.”

Parents urged the school district to take steps as soon as possible, but asked for a measured approach.

“We have a lovely community,” said Paris Cohen, whose children attend Paradise Canyon Elementary School. “We have this great school district. To suddenly believe that we need a security guard on campus — I don’t want my kids looking at a security guard. Think about the emotional impact.”

School board member Joel Peterson said the district can make significant efforts to ensure student safety, but “we can’t protect our children 100%.”

Moreover, he said, the district has to consider “cost-benefit” solutions.

“We have to do it because it actually moves the ball down the field toward the goal,” Peterson said.

But he said all parties have a common goal.

“The concern is shared 100%,” Peterson said to the parents in attendance. “Your suggestions are very well received.”

On Dec. 14, 20-year-old Adam Lanza shot and killed 20 Sandy Hook Elementary students and six adult staff members. Later that day, Sinnette sent a message to families reminding them that the school district already has safety and crisis management plans in place.

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