San Jose school district puts safety onus on each campus | #schoolsaftey

The San Jose Unified School District has denied a community petition to form a task force to shore up safety demands after a string of threats were made toward students at various schools.

Abraham Lincoln High School parent Trudi McCanna and English teacher Elizabeth Neely petitioned the school board to create a communication plan and community task force, as well as review the condition of the district’s safety equipment, including cameras and intercom systems. At its board meeting Thursday night, district leaders rejected the task force request in favor of each school relying on its own council of the principal, teachers, staff, parents and high school students to take on the responsibilities.

The district did approve requests for maintaining safety equipment and will use a new app, parentsquare, for districtwide communication. But the board cautioned it won’t send information before ensuring it is accurate.  

SJUSD Superintendent Nancy Albarran said the district’s security cameras will be checked twice weekly, and work orders to fix any problems with cameras and public announcement systems will be prioritized. Three portable two-way radios have been ordered, one for each of the recently threatened schools, which will share a communications channel.

The SJUSD board responded to the community’s demand for safety protocols following school threats. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

Albarran said since each school knows its traffic flow and the number of people coming to campus best, it makes more sense for school councils to identify how to address potential threats.

“It’s a highly localized discussion,” Albarran said, adding the district will guarantee the issue of safety is on every school council agenda, as well as a link for feedback to the school district.

But Neely disagrees with the decision. She told San José Spotlight that Lincoln High School’s safety plan wasn’t adopted until May 28 because its school council wasn’t comfortable adopting something it had almost no say in.

“They made it sound like our safety plan was unique to our school and we could make changes to it. That’s simply untrue,” she said, adding only two pages can be amended.

McCanna, who previously served on a school council, said using it to review safety plans is insufficient.

“Who is looking at the more holistic protocols that should be consistent?” she said. “And how are we learning from and sharing best practices?”

Jennifer Maddox, spokesperson for SJUSD, told San José Spotlight monthly school council meetings, which are open to the public, are the best way for parents and teachers to get involved in safety plans. 

The petition follows safety threats at several SJUSD schools. On April 21, a Herbert Hoover Middle School student brought a loaded firearm to school. The student was taken into police custody. On May 14, a Lincoln High School student made a threat on social media to shoot classmates with an assault rifle. He was arrested after attending school the following day. On May 17, police arrested a Willow Glen High School student who came on campus armed with a loaded ghost gun and knife.

“Sadly, we live in a world today where threats and incidents of gun violence in our schools are not a question of if, but rather when,” McCanna told the school board.

She said her children, who attend Lincoln and Willow Glen high schools, don’t know whether they’re supposed to run, hide or defend when a lockdown takes place or if they should barricade the door, because teachers are unclear about district procedures. McCanna told San José Spotlight school threats are traumatic for students and teachers, but in the aftermath are not addressed. She said an active, engaged community of parents and teachers are planning to hold monthly safety meetings.

JoLynn Darden, a licensed clinical social worker who works in the special education department at Lincoln High School, said providing counseling and safe spaces before and following traumatic events is essential for students.

“We need mental health counseling across the district,” she said. 

Darbi O’Connell, SJUSD director of student services, said presentations will be made to high school students on the consequences of threatening behavior. School counselors will receive crisis management training at the beginning of the school year to provide students and staff with support following a crisis. 

Darbi O’Connell, director of student services, and district spokesperson Jennifer Maddox said SJUSD is taking steps to ensure school safety. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

During the past school year, SJUSD spent $1.9 million on support from partner agencies—including the Bill Wilson Center, Pacific Clinics, YMCA and Gardner Health Services, among others, O’Connell said. The amount will jump to $3.1 million in the coming school year. The district employs 72 full-time counselors at a cost of $9.25 million, O’Connell said.

 Neely said after the presence of guns on campus and the threat of mass shootings, the community came together and is willing to do the hard work to create change.

“We are asking that you do it with us,” she told the district. “We have a responsibility… to work together to keep the sacred space we call school as safe as it can be.”

Contact Lorraine Gabbert at [email protected]

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