Lead Story West Edition

Area officials move to bolster school safety

LOS ANGELES — Since the Valentine’s Day massacre that took place in Parkland, Florida, schools across the country are moving at a rapid pace to beef up their security measures to make sure their students are safe.

The county Board of Supervisors moved swiftly to approve a motion Feb. 27 that was authored by Supervisor Janice Hahn that would widen the scope of and add staff to the county’s School Threat Assessment Response Team (START), which examines ways to protect schools from mass shootings.

Made up of mental health experts, educators, school security officers and parents, START intervenes at county schools in case there are students who talk about suicide, act abnormally or have made some sort of threat. In just the past week, START has fielded 63 calls of potential threats. The program normally takes in 15 such calls a week.

Hahn said the program needs more personnel and resources to stay on top of this crisis.

“I have no doubt that START has saved lives,” Hahn said. “But this team’s resources are stretched thin. In a county of over 10 million residents, it is clear we need more than 10 people working on this issue. We need to invest in this team and give them the resources they need to take every single threat seriously because our children’s lives are at stake.”

In the wake of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in which 14 students and three faculty members lost their lives, there have been more than a few incidents here in the Southland that have tested the nerves of parents, educators and law enforcement when it comes to school safety.

Incidents involving real and false threats against schools in Inglewood (Monroe Middle School and Morningside High School), Bellflower (Bellflower High School), Whittier (El Camino High School), Long Beach (Long Beach Millikan High School) and Cerritos (Cerritos College, Valley Christian High School), has put law enforcement, school and elected officials on high alert.

“Early identification and intervention are vital in our mutual effort to identify and prevent possible incidents of school violence,” said Supervisor Kathryn Barger, who co-authored the START motion with Hahn. “We cannot ignore the red flags and we must actively seek out troubled young people and get them the help they need before a tragedy occurs.”

The Inglewood Unified School District went through a couple of days of uncertainty earlier this month due to a possible threat against Monroe Middle School and Morningside High School. The Inglewood Police Department was able to debunk that theory as a false alarm resulting from a social media post identified by school officials. The individual who posed the circulated social media posting was later detained.

In response to that particular incident as well as in reaction to the Parkland shooting, the district issued a statement that explains how it examines safety.

“The district reviews every major incident that could conceivably impact school safety,” the district said. “IUSD has a district-wide safety team and a comprehensive communications plan. These teams meet monthly to identify and address current issues and develop best practices.

“We continuously look for ways to improve our response to any critical incident. These types of occurrences are discussed frequently with the IUSD cabinet, administrators and directors and updated as needed.”

Ways in which the Inglewood Unified School District prepares for a possible major incident is to have students and the Inglewood Police Department engage in exercises that are paramount to catastrophe readiness.

“IUSD operates an independent police department and participates in drills which involve lock-down procedures to ensure the safety of our students and team members,” the district said in a released statement. “These drills also measure effective responses in the event of a critical incident. The IUSD Police Department and City of Inglewood Police Department work in collaboration to ensure a seamless and coordinated response to incidents requiring a report to law enforcement.”

The Compton Unified School District, through a detailed email statement, said it has taken a collaborative approach to its school safety measures since the Feb. 14 shooting in Florida, working with local schools to find the best possible way to ensure keeping students and staff members out of harm’s way.

Since the tragic shooting in Parkland, Fla., we have increased communications from schools to parents about safety practices, are holding additional drills and are taking a more in-depth look at each of our school’s safety plans to identify areas where safety can be further bolstered,” the district’s statement said. “In addition, we will be releasing a video reminding parents, students and families that their safety is a priority here at the district and reminding them what they can do if they see, hear or read something.

“We also have re-engaged our safety partnerships on the federal and local level, and most recently attended trainings with local law enforcement and emergency response agencies, as well as a briefing with LA Unified and other local districts on best practices, as well as how we can collaborate in support of student safety.”