SMUSD to Explore Ways to Secure SMHS, HMS

Citing the past installations of safety and security measures at both of the district’s elementary schools, the San Marino Unified School District Board of Education will revisit the conversation of securing its campuses, this time focusing on Huntington Middle School and San Marino High School.
This focus emerged from the conversation the board had with district staff at its meeting this week. The presentation highlighted the various ways the district protected itself and its students from potential violent incidents, particularly in light of the mass shooting that killed 17 people at a Florida school on Feb. 14.
Superintendent Alex Cherniss cited a quote by former President Barack Obama in expressing his staidness at Monday’s meeting, which began with a moment of silence for the Florida victims.
“I feel like an attack on any school in this country is an attack on all of our schools,” Cherniss said.
Cherniss explained that the district conducted a citywide assessment of safety and security measures in 2013, from which emerged projects to install modern door locks on classrooms, surveillance cameras throughout each school, develop a P.A. system that can be remotely controlled and add fencing with camera-based entrances to both Carver and Valentine elementary schools.
“There are many things that we can utilize now that even five years ago we may not have had,” Cherniss said.
Talk of securing the two campuses isn’t new. Most recently, the district included measures to close off public access to both schools’ grounds as part of the bond election that was proposed earlier this year. Although the election has been indefinitely postponed, discussion is expected to continue regarding how to complete the proposed projects — not least being the safety and security measures.
Board member Nam Jack, after expressing support for securing the campuses and thanking district staff and community leaders for their work in doing so, expressed her personal frustration about the latest school shooting, which ignited a national debate regarding firearm rights.
“These parents will, for the rest of their living days, be stuck in a nightmare that none of us should have to bear — to outlive their own children,” she said.
Citing past inaction following other high-profile school shootings, Jack pointed out how other countries like the United Kingdom and Australia quickly clamped down on firearm rights after their own mass shootings and said the Second Amendment, in granting the right to bear arms, was designed to prevent the government from dismantling the militias of the post-Revolution days.
“It was a concern that was relevant to the time of the birth of our country. It is not relevant today,” she said. “Nowhere in the Constitution is a right considered unrestricted.
“Even partial solutions save lives,” Jack added. “Making it harder to purchase a gun could save a life. We cannot let this issue die. If we do, our children will.”
Breaking Down The Active Shooter Drill
The active shooter drill scheduled to be held at San Marino High School on Wednesday had already been scheduled, but the shooting at a high school in Florida was a tragic reminder of the need to develop a plan and practice it.
During a meeting with parents on Thursday, Feb. 22, to brief them on this week’s drill (which occurred after The Outlook’s publication time), Principal Issaic Gates stressed there is no more important part of his job than keeping his students safe.
“Unfortunately, we live in an ever-evolving world and this is what we’ve evolved to,” he said solemnly, speaking to an audience of about 80 in Neher Auditorium.
With the help of Gates, Assistant Principal Doug Berry, Police Chief John Incontro and Fire Chief Mario Rueda, parents at this meeting got a preview of what this week’s drill would consist of and why the district and first responders felt it was necessary. Learning how to respond to such a situation doesn’t just help at school, they emphasized — this could happen anywhere.
“This isn’t that new of a phenomenon,” Incontro said of active shooting situations. “What is newer is that they are coming more frequently and the number of victims is rising with each incident.”
SMUSD, San Marino Police Department and San Marino Fire Department review and update their response plan for these situations annually, and Incontro and Rueda both lauded the district’s plan as “excellent.” Incontro added that, from anywhere in the city, can respond within 2 1/2 minutes, at most.
In such a situation, the plan at SMHS is that faculty and students west of the quad and upstairs should lockdown in classrooms; those in hallways are urged to find a friendly face in an open door as quickly as possible. For those on the east side of campus, including the cafeteria, the plan is to get outside and run east as quickly — and safely — as possible.
In general, Incontro emphasized, people should make themselves aware of their surroundings. When entering a building or a room, be mindful of the quickest exit (which may not always be where you entered). Think of how to barricade a door.
For those locked down in a room or hiding, keeping cellphones off after calling 911 could be key. Lighted screens, vibrations and noises can easily give away someone’s hiding spot.
“If a door’s locked, he’ll probably move on, but if he sees that someone’s in that room, he’ll likely try everything he can to get in there,” Incontro said.
This drill was to begin when a non-explosive flashbang device was triggered, prompting the campus-wide announcement that the drill had begun. A police officer posing as a gunman — carrying an AR-15 with blank rounds and with a covered barrel — was to roam the school as other officers and firefighters (who are doubly certified as emergency medical technicians and often paramedics) responded.
The mantra for these situations has been “run, hide, fight,” in that order, but Incontro stressed that “run” and “hide” are the major ones and fighting back should only be considered if absolutely necessary.
“There’s more emphasis on the run and the hide, because the fight is the absolute last thing you want to do,” he said. “It involves some nasty stuff. This isn’t a schoolyard fight. We emphasize it.”
Rueda pointed out that since the Columbine High School shooting in 1999, law enforcement agencies and other entities have overhauled their response plans and applauded Gates and SMUSD leadership for investing the resources to do so.
“We’re light years away from where we were when Columbine occurred and we get a much better response today,” Rueda said. “In my experience, people don’t necessarily rise to the occasion. They really sink to the level of their training.”
The district and first responders will have outside experts review their response procedures to evaluate strengths and areas for improvement.

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