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RSF School board to consider approval of electronic locks next month

The Rancho Santa Fe School District board is pursuing the installation of electronic locks on all campus doors and gates to better secure the physical safety of the village campus. If the board approves the $405,000 system at its November meeting, the district could move forward with the four-month long installation process beginning in February 2019. Staff could be trained throughout the 2019 summer for roll-out in the 2019-20 school year.

Funding for the project would come from the capital facilities fund, which is separate from the general fund.

Access control was one of the main recommendations to come out of this summer’s security evaluation completed by School Safety Operations but improving the locks at R. Roger Rowe School has something the district has considered many times over the last eight years, according to Brad Johnson, the district’s chief operating officer at the board’s Oct. 16 meeting.

An access control system was part of the plans for Rowe’s reconstruction in 2010 but it was removed due to budget constraints. The topic came up again in 2016 but it was put on hold in mid-2016 during the leadership change and was revived again in fall 2017 with a renewed focus in winter 2018 due to the ongoing national threat of school violence, Johnson said. In the last few months, Rancho Santa Fe School District staff has conducted site visits to observe fully deployed systems, drafting a project budget and scope.

District Technology Director Ben Holbert said the system would replace every door with the electronic lock and there would also be ID card readers, perimeter gate controls and better front door management, including the swinging gate in the front office.

The system would allow the school to assign and manage staff member access, would allow for limited or scheduled access for outside vendors and visitors as well as provide for automatic site locking at night.

Currently, the school employs a conventional lock and key system—this requires manual locking of all doors and various gates. One of the most troubling aspects of the current system, Johnson said, is that there is no indicator from the inside as to whether the door is locked unless manually checked.

Interim Superintendent Kim Pinkerton said when the district conducted an active shooter drill a few years ago, a teacher had to open the door to see if it was locked and when she attempted to close the door, the blind got caught in the door and the assailant was able to enter. Even though Jeff Kaye of School Safety Operations told the district that there is a .0001 percent chance of an active shooter coming on campus, that moment has stuck in a lot of staff’s minds, Pinkerton said.

“We all recognize that there is a very minute chance of an active assailant but we also know there is a need for immediacy in a lockdown,” Pinkerton said, noting that the school has been on lockdown many times over her career whether there was an armed intruder at a bank or the police had required them to lock down due to a suspicious person in the area. A student once prompted a lockdown when they didn’t recognize someone on campus during the school day who turned out to be a parent.

“In absence of information, you want the ability to close down a campus for the safety of our kids until you figure out what’s going on,” Pinkerton said. “I think there is a desire to have this type of a system because of all of those incidents…that’s why we are bringing this to the board and why we have brought it up since 2010.”

Board members had some concerns about “the people issues”—whether it was cost-effective to invest money in a big system if a student or parent might negate it just by holding the gate or door open for somebody.

“It’s not going to be perfect but the thing to keep at the forefront of your mind is the immediate lockdown,” Holbert said.

According to the safety consultant, being able to lock the entire school down quickly in the case of an emergency is a top priority.

Johnson said the system will also help “tremendously” with oversight, allowing for “more robust” reporting and moderating when a gate or door has been opened.

Board member Sarah Neal wanted to ensure that the district is not focusing too heavily on security and that they are also addressing other safety aspects such as climate and culture. The safety consultant told the district that when looking at preventing campus incidents, the biggest difference is not made by locks but by a proactive and positive school climate.

Pinkerton assured Neal that they are balancing both needs: “We’re trying to be mindful of all of those security concerns with the physical (campus) as well as the social, emotional piece,” Pinkerton said.

Pinkerton said the social and emotional piece will take some time as the district plans to have conversations with parents and staff about new programs that are available as well as what has worked well at Rowe, such as Peaceful Playgrounds. Pinkerton said they are also currently evaluating anonymous reporting tools for students and parents like Sandy Hook Promise’s See Something Say Something and an online tool from PSST (Promoting Safer Schools Together) World.

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