The grand jury measured all 14 school districts’ preparedness against leading practices through interviews, site visits, and expert witness testimony.
STOCKTON, Calif. — The San Joaquin County Civil Grand Jury released a report investigating safety planning in its school districts, determining there is no unified approach, and plans often consist of a “patchwork of policies and procedures.”
In addition to the county’s 14 public school districts, several police departments and other education agencies were part of a civil grand jury investigation to determine how safe schools are. The investigation was prompted by the influx in gun violence as well as severe weather, both locally and nationwide, grand jury member Lou Meyer told KCRA.
“A lot of incidents taking place. We wanted to see how we in San Joaquin County were prepared for dealing with the potential of school shootings or other threats to our student populations,” said Meyer.
Through interviews, site visits, and expert witness testimony, the grand jury evaluated school safety planning by measuring each district’s preparedness against leading practices identified through research, says the report. It was determined many school sites are unprepared for an emergency because state-mandated comprehensive school safety plans often consisted of “boilerplate documents that are rarely specific to school sites.” For instance, the documents failed to outline what should happen if there were a derailment near a school site located close to train tracks.
The report found many of the plans were not updated with involvement from teachers, support staff, and parents, and were not compiled through a “meaningful” collaboration with law enforcement. It recommends law enforcement be more involved in the process of developing, implementing, and annually updating safety plans.
Many districts also failed to describe a system for reuniting parents with their children in the event of an emergency, and most didn’t include an assessment of crimes at schools or address the unique needs of students with disabilities.
“Interviews and conversations with district administrators and school personnel often indicated limited knowledge of the safety information within these lengthy plans or even where the plan was physically located,” the report said.
The report also notes that the San Joaquin County Office of Education held a half-day school safety summit for the first time in Nov. 2022. However, three of the county’s 14 school districts did not send a representative, “thereby missing an opportunity to work together to make schools safer.” The report calls for full participation in the next safety summit, as well as more drills and year-round meetings.
“Basic, age‐appropriate drills should be the focus of any safety training involving students. Overly dramatic drills that create student anxiety should be avoided,” the report said. “Safety training for school employees must be more than a once‐a‐year event; it must be integrated into staff meetings throughout the school year and must include not only teachers and administrators but also support staff. Safety drills for staff and students must be diversified in the type and timing of the drills.”
By Oct. 1, administrators are urged to create a “post-incident” report on the safety drills.
Visitor management was also a cause for concern after grand jury members conducted school site visits. The report found check-in procedures weren’t consistently followed and varied by district, and the grand jury was concerned with how easily they were able to gain access to certain parts of some campuses.
“Our IDs may have been checked going in and visitor cards given to us,” Meyer said. “When we left, they did not gather those visitor cards from us, therefore allowing any potential reuse of the same ID, which was concerning.”
Also by Oct. 1, the grand jury recommends all schools implement a system to verify visitors’ identities and collect ID badges when they leave.
Additional leading practice recommendations for all schools include:
- Posting evacuation maps in all classrooms and common areas
- Developing a better plan for door-locking policies
- Covering all windows so people can’t see into classrooms
Part of the report also noted that recent shootings have led some experts to believe schools have skewed their safety planning toward target hardening, creating “a failure to focus on human factors and the fundamentals of school security and culture.” It cited the benefits of a positive school culture that can result in “a greater sense of shared responsibility for the well‐being and safety of everyone in the school,” and said students would then be “more likely to report concerns or potential safety issues.”
Schools and agencies are given 90 days to respond whether they agree, disagree, or partially agree with the report findings, and to explain their decision.
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