RSF School responds to grand jury report on school shooting preparedness

New electronic locks were installed on all doors at R. Roger Rowe School.
(Karen Billing)

Due to the heightened concerns about school shootings, the San Diego County Grand Jury investigated the preparedness of some San Diego County schools in response to an active shooter situation. The Rancho Santa Fe School District was one of 11 districts in the county selected at random to participate in the grand jury process this spring.

The 11 districts, which also included San Dieguito Union High School District, are required to file responses to the grand jury’s findings by March 1, 2020. While all other districts had to respond to all 11 findings and recommendations, RSF School only had to respond to seven.

“Most of the recommendations we have already implemented or we are on the way toward implementing,” said Superintendent Donna Tripi at the board’s Aug. 8 meeting in which they approved sending their response to the Honorable Peter C. Deddeh, presiding judge of the San Diego Superior Court.

The grand jury report identified areas where added precautions seem warranted, including making sure all school safety plans emphasize how to best handle active shooter situations.

“Although the probability is low for a school shooting to occur, it is imperative that our schools be reasonably prepared for the possibility of such an event,” the report stated.

The report found that overall, the San Diego County schools studied are prepared to handle many kinds of emergencies, including active shooter situations, due largely to mandates from the state. California Education Code requires all K-12 schools to develop a Comprehensive School Safety Plan and to update it annually by March each year.

RSF School’s safety plan was developed in partnership with its Safety Advisory Committee comprised of parents, teachers, administrators and representatives from local agencies and first responders.

Last year per the request of the committee, the district commissioned a hazard and vulnerability assessment and the district has completed almost all of the safety and security recommendations over the summer including the installation of electronic access control locks in all classrooms and additional surveillance cameras.

Recommendations from the grand jury that the district has not yet implemented include promoting the use of tip hotlines and tip apps for students and parents to report suspicious activity and conducting active shooter drills with staff.

According to the district’s response to the report, they have been conducting lockdown drills every other month with students and teachers and Tripi said they plan to do the active shooter drill annually beginning this school year.

As for the tip hotline, Tripi said they are still exploring the idea of an anonymous reporting system for middle school students this year. They will be offering the SOS Signs of Suicide training to middle school students, which helps increase student knowledge about depression and suicide prevention and encourages personal help-seeking and/or seeking help on behalf of a friend.

Tripi said the most challenging of the findings for the RSF District is the recommendation that substitute teachers are trained on active shooter awareness. Per the district’s response, the recommendation is difficult to achieve due to the transience of the substitute pool and the costs involved. As Rancho Santa Fe is part of a consortium for substitutes with other school districts, Tripi said they are exploring the possibility of a video or online training that substitutes would have to complete before being added to the substitute system.

Currently, all substitutes receive folders that detail the school’s emergency operations plan for fire, lockdown, active assailant and earthquake drills.