LCUSD Task Force Tackles Student Safety, Traffic, Wellness

Photo by Mirjam Swanson / OUTLOOK
Superintendent Wendy Sinnette addresses the newly formed community task force at its first meeting last week on Thursday, May 24. The task force was created to help the La Cañada Unified School District improve its safety, security and student wellness policies.

The especially sobering thing about discussing safety, security and student well-being is how deep those conversations go, La Cañada Unified School District Superintendent Wendy Sinnette said last week during the first meeting of the district’s task force to address those topics.
“Everything’s connected,” she said. “And as soon as you talk about one thing, it makes you think of another. The work will never be done, but it’s really empowering to have such wonderful people here committed to doing the work.”
Twenty-three members of the community — including parents, students, administrators, teachers and staff members — joined district administrators and Governing Board members in the district’s meeting room on Thursday, May 24. They signed up for subcommittees and got an overview of what they’re expected to accomplish in the next year.
The subcommittees will focus on the topics of student and staff training; traffic and parking; campus security; wellness, communication and outreach; and whether to close the high school campus at lunch. Those groups will meet separately and work to develop actionable recommendations for the task force, which is scheduled to meet twice more.
“It’s about gathering input from everybody,” Governing Board member Joe Radabaugh said. “The community feedback is so important and we’ve gotten a ton of it in the past three, four months, but it’s really important that we organize it so it’s constructive and actionable.”
The task force was borne of events that occurred in February, when the community was shaken both by drug-related incidents at La Cañada High School that led to arrests and hospitalizations as well as news of the mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people.
“In February, we hit a crescendo,” Sinnette said. “We went into reaction mode vs. being proactive. This is going to be a heightened, charged, emotional issue. If we can synthesize that so we’re gathering feedback that’s concentrated and informative vs. reactionary, that’ll be key.”
Sinnette and other officials told members selected for the task force — many of whom bring with them law enforcement or legal expertise — that they’ll want members of the subcommittee focused on staff and student training to investigate how the district should handle, in part, active shooter drills.
Members of that committee will utilize an ongoing school security assessment when they make their first recommendations, likely before the school year commences on Aug. 16. LCUSD is expecting a report in June from Chameleon Associates, a firm that’s conducting a “granular” look at what the district might not be doing as well as possible on each of its campuses.
Specific issues of campus security will be taken up by another committee, whose recommendations will be considered as district officials decide how best to spend funds from the $149 million Measure LCF bond that passed last year.
“There’s some heavy-duty decision-making to be done,” Sinnette said. “The community would be disappointed if in 10 years, all $149 million have been spent on security infrastructure and not dedicated to classrooms, and there’s no new pool and there are all kinds of physical needs that affect teaching and learning. It’s about finding the balance.”
The subcommittee exploring how to improve traffic and parking practices at LCUSD’s schools will be led by board member Dan Jeffries and Assistant Superintendent Mark Evans, both of whom sit on the Joint Use Committee that bridges district and city activities.
“It might sound mundane,” Jeffries said. “But the reality is there’s a low probability of something like [a school shooting] happening and a high probability that something will happen with traffic or in a crosswalk. We’re not only trying to address the really unlikely scenarios but we want to address the things that already happen every day.”
The subcommittee focused on wellness, communication and outreach will have a wide purview, including considering social media policies, vaping cessation efforts and how best to spread the word about all the task force’s conclusions.
“The wellness issues are really wide-ranging and have the opportunity to be so capacious we could drive many, many trucks under it,” said Jim Cartnal, who will help guide the group with Governing Board member Brent Kuszyk. “That’s particularly regarding some of the more tragic news we’ve been facing. We’re not talking about stranger-danger; we’re talking about folks who are known. So, wellness, in this regard, speaks to tightening the bonds in the community and tightening the sense of belonging.”
“Wellness,” Kuszyk said, “goes hand in hand with prevention.”
Another committee will consider the question about whether to continue letting LCHS seniors leave for lunch, as has been a long-held tradition at the school.
Sinnette said parents have asked the district to reconsider it, citing concerns about unsafe driving or the ease of obtaining or using illegal substances away from educators.
“We have to look at the student perspective, the parent perspective, the staff considerations,” Sinnette said. “We also don’t want to create policies that we can’t enforce; if we close the campus and don’t have a closed campus, how do we enforce it?”

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