As South Pasadena Unified School District officials awaited a public hearing on renewing the parcel tax Friday morning, the predominant discussion was on the Sandy Hook School shooting in Connecticut.
For Superintendent Joel Shapiro, it underscored the importance of securing peripheral fences around the last two SPUSD schools not to have them: Monterey Hills Elementary and South Pasadena Middle School.
"I was very surprised when I first came to the district that there were any schools not fenced,'' he said, noting the construction going on at the around the middle school, the reconfiguring of the perimeter, precluded such a fence from the middle school. But there was no reconfiguring happening at the elementary school.
He pushed for the construction of fences at both schools, the only ones in the district without periferal security.
That said, Shapiro wants parents to know the district has plans in place to help children feel safe. When something like Friday's Connecticut tragedy happens, the very first step for the district is to provide resources to the teachers and the counselors that they can use when talking to the children. Some children exhibit a demonstrable reaction to the violence, while other children react in more subtle ways that you really need to look for, he said.
But are South Pasadena students safe?
“You can’t answer [definitively] yes or no to that question. We do everything we can to ensure their safety: lock down drills, lock down plans, an all-call system. But asking that is like asking, ‘Are they 100 percent safe at home?’
“Nobody can ever say with certainty in this world what it is to be 100 percent safe,’’ he said.
Shapiro will send an email blast to parents explaining the district’s procedures in the event of an emergency, as well as a reminder of how teachers and counselors will address a topic such as school shootings.
As for the non-fenced schools, the Division of the State Architect, which provides design and construction oversight for K–12 schools, has signed off on the plans to build a fence at Monterey Hills. And Measure M funds are slated to cover the middle school fencing, so those plans are in the works.
Should there be an emergency, Shapiro said, "We take every precaution, we have lock down procedures in place, that have been thoroughly planned out, but we need that external security.''
Considering South Pasadena students are likely to hear something about the Newtown, Conn. massacre over the weekend, Assistant Superintendent Steve Seaford said counselors will be prepared Monday to talk with any children who are having a difficult time. It's common for school officials to see increased anxiety in children after a highly publicized, horrific event.