R. Roger Rowe School parents have expressed frustration that the plan to install electronic locks on all school doors and gates appears to have stalled. At the Feb. 7 Rancho Santa Fe School District board meeting, parents urged the board to move forward in implementing an access control system to help keep students safe. Currently, the school employs a conventional lock and key system that requires manual locking of all doors and various gates. For classroom teachers, there is no indicator from the inside as to whether the door is locked unless it is opened and manually checked.
“We have a unique opportunity to make our school safer for our students and our staff,” said parent Julie Buechler. “I’ve spoken to many parents and staff members who feel that an access control system is the single most important resource we can put in place for safety because if we don’t have a protective physical barrier, we have nothing to keep us safe.”
Buechler said she understands that the district has a deficit and limited resources but ensuring that every door can be locked in an emergency situation is a critical need. An emergency room physician, Buechler said she cared for victims of two school shootings as a resident in 2001, “It’s something I never want to see again.”
“I beg you to please secure our school,” Buechler said. “It’s important to me as a parent, as a first responder and a physician, and as a community member,”
Improving the locks at the school has been something the district has considered many times over the last eight years. An access control system was part of the plans for Rowe’s reconstruction in 2010 but it was removed due to budget constraints.
Parent concerns about campus safety were heightened following the Feb. 14, 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. Last March the district took immediate action by limiting access to campus entrance points and forming the Safety Advisory Committee. One of the recommendations to come out of the committee was to hire a safety consultant.
Jeff Kaye, of School Safety Operations, conducted his review over the summer and one of his main recommendations was the implementation of an access control system. Throughout the fall, school district staff conducted site visits to observe fully deployed systems and drafted a project budget and scope. In October it was proposed that the four-month-long installation of a $405,000 system could begin in February 2019 with training over the summer for a rollout in the 2019-20 school year—however, access control never made it onto another agenda.
“Unfortunately after a year of careful and diligent review, after hiring a professional to access the dangers to our children, after building a consensus among teachers, parents and a large portion of the administration, this board continues to throw up additional roadblocks to the proper implementation of providing security measures at the school that could potential save our children’s lives,” said parent Stacy Harris.
Harris said board members have commented that “It won’t happen here,” that other schools do not have the system and that the addition of dressing rooms for wrestling matches is “more important to spend money on than the safety of our children.”
“We have heard that the school cannot afford to implement access control during a budget crisis. That is not only another excuse it is simply untrue,” Harris said, noting that funding for the project would come from the capital facilities fund, which is separate from the general fund.
“The school spends $350,000 every three years on iPads. This means in a single four-year period the school will spend $700,000 on an iPad technology yet it will not consider spending $400,000 from an unused reserve fund specifically reserved to pay for school infrastructure,” Harris said. “With the roadblocks to implementation that are now consistently being thrown up it is my opinion that personal agendas have now taken over the decision-making of this board, not the best interest of the children.”
The safety consultant said that there’s a .0001 percent chance of someone coming into a school with a gun and parent Sherry Wilson said she was disappointed that board members have used that low probability to argue that the cost of the system outweighs the benefit. She said it was “unacceptable and naive” to use the argument that nothing could ever happen in the Ranch.
“When it comes to the safety of our children we should accept no probability of error if we have the ability and the means to prevent it,” Wilson said.
While access control was not on the agenda on Feb. 7, that night the board was approving the annual update of its comprehensive school safety plan, a requirement of the California Department of Education.
The plan includes several different criterions including disaster procedures and drills, child abuse reporting systems, policies related to suspensions, and having a safe and orderly school environment, which includes the school’s character development program and discipline plan. The plan also includes a dress code which RSF School District Superintendent Donna Tripi noted may need to be revisited—the code still prohibits yoga pants.
“According to the safety consultant, our campus was one of the safest he’s seen and we have a high level of security at our campus,” Tripi said.
Tripi said the school has very important pieces in place such as a single point of access, visitor management system, perimeter fencing and surveillance cameras but they do have to “look at and study” the door locking system.
While the safety consultant’s assessment was completed over the summer and there have been several drafts, the final report is still outstanding. It will not be shared with the public as it is considered confidential but a summary report will be provided. Board member Kali Kim questioned why it has taken so long and said the priority should be getting that final report. Board President Sarah Neal said moving forward regarding access control, she was also looking for the expert’s opinion in that final report: “It’s unclear to me what the specific recommendation was about access control,” Neal said.
Board Vice President Tyler Seltzer said while he was interested in what the consultant had to say, he also wanted to hear the recommendation from the experts they have at the school such as the new superintendent.
He said sooner rather than later, he wants to know what specifically are the school’s areas of vulnerability and the proposals they have to address them, with the related costs spelled out so the board can make a decision.
“I want to get that as quickly as we can—what is something that needs to be fixed and what are the options,” Seltzer said. “I feel like there seemed to be clarity several months ago and that clarity has gone away.”