At a May 24 special meeting, the Rancho Santa Fe School board approved hiring a safety consultant to provide a security evaluation and assist the advisory safety committee in developing recommendations for the district’s comprehensive safety plan.
The board approved bringing in a consultant from School Safety Operations, in an amount not to exceed $9,000. The consultant will review the physical environment of the campus and complete hazard and vulnerability assessments including access control. The consultant will also provide input on improving the district’s communications planning with law enforcement and assist with updating the district’s disaster preparedness plan.
The safety advisory committee is made of 25 members, consisting of parents, teachers, classified staff, administration, board member Sarah Neal and the RSF Community Center Director Linda Durket. Superintendent David Jaffe said the committee, formed in late March, is the first of its kind in the district. It has met three times so far and has one more meeting scheduled before the school year ends.
“(The advisory committee) plays an important role because we really do want feedback and input from parents,” Jaffe said.
The safety committee had recommended that the board hire a safety consultant and at the May 10 board meeting, the board voted 2-2 with board members Neal and Tom Barton voting against the item and board member Scott Kahn abstaining. Barton and Neal addressed that there was a misunderstanding about their “no” votes—they were not against hiring the consultant but wanted to table the discussion to do further due diligence on the scope of the consultant’s work.
During public comment on May 24, parents encouraged the board to move forward and approve the consultant. Parent Melissa Guthrie said she didn’t understand the waiting, and said that the sooner they get going they could use the summer months to plan and implement and be prepared when students return in the fall.
“I know all of you have your hearts in the right place. With that being said, I ask that we move forward more quickly. Weeks turn into months that easily turn into a year and nothing has changed. It’s obvious when I walk my child into school every day,” said parent Jessica Corbin. “Today we can start the process of securing our school and the safety of our children. Getting an expert here is exactly what we need…having someone who is an expert in this field point out the weaknesses and loopholes where our children are most vulnerable is the best money we can spend for the safety of our children and the safety of our school.”
Neal said she was fully supportive of a security evaluation but she wanted to ensure other issues were being considered such as supervision and district response to threats, concerns raised in a survey this spring. Barton agreed about the scope of evaluation that is required.
“I fully support school safety and I understand that the way the board acted last meeting would lead individuals of the community to maybe consider that members of the board weren’t as committed to school safety,” Neal said. “I wanted to reaffirm my particular commitment to school safety.”
Neal said the first thing she asked for when she got on the board was a copy of the comprehensive safety plan which she reviewed and decided needed work.
“I do think that it is important to get another expert involved who can give us feedback on broader safety issues,” said Barton. “I see this consultant being very skilled in a certain kind of security problem we have at the school which I myself am very concerned about. There’s all sorts of weak links in the way the facility is managed and the way it’s been constructed.”
Barton advocated that the district continue to look for further expertise to help with broader safety concerns on campus.
RSF School District President Todd Frank and Vice President Tyler Seltzer said they voted for the consultant on May 10 and would not be changing their votes this time around—Seltzer expressed some frustration in the delay.
“I thought it was a reasonable request from our superintendent and from our chief business officer,” Seltzer said. “I care greatly about results. I would never disparage or disrespect process but I thought that this was a great example of a focus on process and study getting in the way of results and productivity. As long as I’m on this board, for two and a half more years, I will always take exception to the fact that we grind productivity and results to a halt out of some type of deep-seeded allegiance to process and process and process.”
A presentation on the school’s various safety efforts was on the agenda but Frank suggested it be postponed to a future meeting until the safety consultant can provide additional input. Neal said she had planned to hear the presentation and as several parents were in attendance, she questioned why the board was taking it off the agenda.
Seltzer said that the May 24 special meeting was to vote on the consultant and they did not need the presentation at this time because the board had already accomplished what they wanted to do two weeks ago. Jaffe stayed after the meeting to share the presentation with parents who wanted to hear the overview of the district’s efforts on student safety, both physical and emotional, and their plans for improvement.
At the meeting, Seltzer also addressed misinformation he said has been circulating in the district regarding the district’s safety plan.
“I find it troubling that one or two board members have indicated to folks in the public that there is no safety plan. That is not true,” Seltzer said.
He said while the safety plan has always existed, it is not to the point where they would like it to be. He said it’s the hope that the advisory committee and leadership, with help from the safety consultant, will help create a much better plan.
Neal responded to Seltzer’s comments to clarify to the public: “I have never alluded that we don’t have a safety plan,” she said.