A school should be a safe and secure place where children can learn in peace. Here in San Diego, local school districts have many measures to ensure that’s the case.
The U.S. witnessed its deadliest school shooting in a decade on May 24. While it sparked a debate surrounding gun control and police response, the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas also underscored how important school safety measures can be in an emergency.
Just days after the horrific events in Uvalde, an anonymous shooting threat led to a lockdown at several schools in the Poway Unified School District. The situation, which turned out to be a false alarm, offered a glimpse into how San Diego schools would respond to a threat, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported.
In San Diego County, safety measures are decided on a district-by-district basis, according to Bob Mueller. Mueller is the San Diego County Office of Education’s interim director of safety and student engagement.
In the wake of Uvalde, Mueller told ABC 10News that districts in San Diego are currently reevaluating their safety measures.
“We constantly follow any incident like this, we reevaluate what we’re doing,” he said. “I do take some solace in the work that we’ve done in San Diego County to try to make those events less likely here.”
Although he didn’t disclose specific details for security reasons, Mueller said that the county’s Office of Education helps school districts plan active shooter drills and evacuation measures.
According to local officials in the San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD), its highest priority is the safety of students on campus.
Schools in the district must conduct a minimum of two lockdown drills annually. It also provides training opportunities for teachers and staff. However, its security measures don’t stop at drills and evacuation plans.
SDUSD Facilities Communication Supervisor Samer Naji recently gave the La Jolla Light a recent update on what the district is doing to ensure students are safe.
For example, the district is currently in the midst of an endeavor to harden physical security at campuses throughout San Diego.
That “includes improvements to security fencing, reorienting main offices with a single, monitored and controlled campus entry point during the school day and installing a modern emergency communication system and VoIP [voice over internet protocol] telephone system that facilitates one-way and two-way communication in the event of an emergency,” Naji told the Light.
Other upgrades can include features aimed at mitigating intrusion or vandalism, like upgrades to campus alarm systems and implementing additional security cameras or lighting.
Mueller told the Light that San Diego schools need to be more proactive, too.
He highlighted how it’s crucial that assessment teams investigate potential warnings or threats. These teams can include a principal, a school resource officer, a psychologist, and a social worker or counselor. Their goal is to analyze potential threats and meet with students to assess them.
In addition to reporting and analyzing threats, schools can also do much more to prevent shootings by making sure that students who are emotionally struggling can get the help they need, he said.
The challenge, however, is balancing safety preparation and prevention measures without making schools a place children fear.
“Schools need to be a place where kids can come to and feel safe and laugh and learn and flourish,” Mueller said. “We just have to be careful that we don’t let ourselves be overcome by fear and make school a negative place for kids.”