In San Gabriel Valley/Whittier, officials say they’re doubling down on security in wake of school shooting

This post first appeared on San Gabriel Valley Tribune - El Monte on . You can read the original article here.

The day after the Texas school shooting where a lone gunman killed 19 children and two teachers at an elementary school in Texas, local superintendents declared that their schools are safe.

Officials from schools in the Pasadena, San Gabriel Valley and Whittier areas in telephone interviews on Wednesday, May 25 detailed how they’re making schools secure, described additional steps they might take in response to the shooting and how they are dealing with the emotional fall-out among students and faculty.

One district was launching more preparedness drills, many sent letters to teachers and parents and others were double-checking security arrangements.

“We’re constantly on our toes about the possibility of this happening,” Martin Plourde, superintendent for Whittier Union High School District, said of a shooting.

“We’re constantly reviewing with our sites and our counseling staffs the possibilty exists and what can we do to reduce the likelihood,” Plourde said “So we’re not doing anything knee-jerk to the Texas shooting but it does serve as a grave reminder that we always have to be on our toes.”

In an email, Pasadena Unified Superintendent Brian McDonald gave similar assurances.

“We want to assure you that every single person in Pasadena Unified School District is committed to the safety of our students and schools,” McDonald wrote. “Whatever you or your family are experiencing, we want you to know that you are not alone and that support is available at school and in our community.”

The nation’s latest mass shooting came one day after Los Angeles elected officials, faith leaders and cultural leaders gathered at First AME Church of Los Angeles for a candlelight vigil to honor the victims killed in two racial- and hate-motivated mass shootings in Buffalo, New York, and Laguna Woods last week.

The vigil was hosted by the Los Angeles Civil + Human Rights and Equity Department and attended by Garcetti, Councilmen Curren Price and Paul Koretz and Los Angeles Police Department Chief Michel Moore.

A candle was lit for each of the 11 victims killed during the two shootings: 10 in Buffalo on May 14 and one in Laguna Woods on May 15.

David Navar, president of the Montebello Teachers Association, who called the “terrible news,” said he believes his district campuses are safe.

“Everyone is frustrated that these things are still happening,” Navar said.

“It seems to be a regular part of our society,” he said. “Teachers are trying to find a way to process this with our students . We know for the most part they’re safe in our schools but these things do have an impact. It’s important that students feel safe.”

Navard’s district is in the process of hiring more campus security aides — something that was in the works before the shooting — interim superintendent Mark Skvarna said.

“We’re just double checking everything and looking for any way we can,” Skvarna said. “We’re just looking at way to make schools more secure.”

El Rancho Unified School District this week is holding safety drills.

“We want to ensure everyone is on par with knowing what to do during a lockdown,” Superintendent Frances Esparza said.

“There’s earthquake, and and shelter in place drills,” Esparza said. “We’ve informed the parents.”

In Azusa Unified, a district-wide email was sent out to parents and staff in the aftermath with resources on talking to students about violence as well as counseling available to them, their families and staff.

The school board on May 10 also approved a $54 million facility modernization that included many safety-related items, like intrusion alarm and surveillance equipment upgrades.

“Each school site has a comprehensive school safety plan in place,” said Azusa Unified Superintendent Arturo Ortega.

“Each site has regular fire, earthquake, lockdown and evacuation drills with staff and students,” Ortega said. “We work closely with our local law enforcement agencies to discuss preventative measures that may be taken to protect students and staff.

Like many, West Covina Unified Superintendent Emy Flores said she was shocked and saddened by the event.

“As a parent, I know that when you drop off your child at school, you do so with the trust that your child will return home at the end of the day, safe and free from harm,” Flores said.

“It was important for me to convey my sorrow to families and reassure them that keeping their children, our students, safe is top priority in WCUSD and that we work closely with West Covina PD to ensure the most current safety protocols are in place, that we will have police presence at our schools.”

Denise Jaramillo, Superintendent of Alhambra Unified School District, remembers what she started thinking about when she heard of the shooting.

“What I immediately thought is we must absolutely remember that staying connected to one another — reaching out to check on each another — is a safety essential,” she said. “It takes every one of us in the community to keep kids and staff safe.

“We must all pay attention to very young children who are not thriving, living in terrible circumstances, and make sure we get them help early — before they become 18-year-old killers who could not find ways to manage their years of rage and hopelessness.”

Jaramillo said her district has a comprehensive school-based program with mental health counselors and school psychologists at each campus.

“This allows for daily access to counseling as needed for every child,” she said, adding they will indeed be available to students throughout the summer.

Jaramillo said the district participates in Critical Incident Training with local law enforcement and fire department, with staff participating in scenarios alongside first responders. All schools have monthly emergency drills, including lockdown, in which case a district-wide email is sent to parents, staff and community; those notifications are also made via social media.

Other safety measures include school resource officers who travel throughout the district and respond as needed. Doors to classrooms are to remain in the locked position at all times, as per the board of education, and while many of the sites have PA systems for school-wide notifications, the district is working on getting those for the sites that don’t yet have them.

Gary Gonzales, superintendent of South Whittier School District, said he believes his schools are safe.

“There’s no one answer to school safety,” Gonzales said.

“We go about in a a variety of ways,” he said. “It includes working with the county sheriff. and Whittier Police Department. We conduct emergency drills. make sure our ingress and egress points at school are monitored and make sure exterior gates are locked. It’s really about making sure we keep the bad guys out.”

Staff writers Brennon Dixson and Robert Morales contributed to this report