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San Dieguito district discusses options to ensure campus safety

The San Dieguito Union School District board talked school safety at its July 16 meeting after concerns expressed by trustee Mo Muir. Muir was bothered, she said, to hear rumors about the drug culture at La Costa Canyon and San Dieguito Academy high schools. She wanted to hear what steps the district is taking to keep schools a safe environment for kids after hearing about students using drugs on campus in the bathrooms or in the school parking lot.

“I feel like we should be proactive and not reactive … I’m concerned about what’s happening,” Muir said.

Over the years, Superintendent Rick Schmitt said the district has tried many things in efforts to make schools safe and free from drugs and alcohol, from drug-sniffing dogs in 1995 to having 10 campus supervisors after the Columbine shooting in 1999, where now campuses have just one. The increased supervisors didn’t make a difference, Schmitt said, and the drug-sniffing dogs ended up just frightening students. They have found education is the foundation of drug abuse prevention.

“We do recognize that youngsters make poor choices, but we work with parents, teachers and students on education and support,” Schmitt said. “There are things we can do to get better.”

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Every year, students anonymously participate in the California Department of Education’s Healthy Kids survey. According to 2013’s results, 90 percent of students in the district said they feel safe on campus.

Jason Viloria, associate superintendent of administrative services, said school safety revolves around ensuring campuses are physically secure, having staff undergo training to handle specific situations and providing school programs that educate students.

Viloria said they communicate with students extensively about drug and alcohol safety through partnerships with the San Dieguito Alliance for Drug Free Youth, events like Challenge Days and Red Ribbon Week, and through the Start Smart program, which every parent and student driver must go through to be issued a parking permit.

The education efforts appear to be having a positive effect, he said. The Healthy Kids survey showed that in 2005, 53 percent of students had tried marijuana, but that number had dipped to 30 percent, which is 10 percent below the national average.

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The district has also implemented the use of breathalyzers at school dances.

Schmitt said there is no single solution to prevent teenage alcohol and drug use, and students do get caught from time to time. When students are caught, they undergo the district’s READI (Recovery Education and Alcohol Drug Instruction) program, an extensive two-day program held at La Costa Canyon with special support counselors.

As far as student discipline, Viloria said the district is following the statewide trend of suspensions and expulsions being on the decline.

The district saw 173 students suspended in 2013-14, down from 669 in 2008-09. As for expulsions, only four students were expelled in 2013-14, down from 20 in 2008-09.

Schmitt said out of 12,500 students, four is a fairly low number.

“Our schools are really the safest place for our kids to be,” said President Beth Hergesheimer.

Muir said she doesn’t care about the statistics; she personally does not believe the schools are safe and wants to see action from the district.

“It is a problem. I think it’s serious. I want kids to be more safe on campus,” she said.

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Schmitt asked what kinds of solutions she is proposing. Muir responded, “You tell me, you’re the superintendent.”

Board members discussed having better training for campus supervisors, having more than one golf cart per campus for enhanced supervision and installing security cameras at select locations.

Schmitt said those were all good suggestions that the district would consider.

“The biggest change I’ve seen over the years is (that) the ‘Teenage Code of Silence’ is gone,” Schmitt said.

He said teenagers weekly approach adults on campus and let them know of something they don’t think is right, or when they think a fellow student has a problem. He referred to the Yik Yak social media threat in November, which resulted in campus lockdowns at Canyon Crest Academy and Torrey Pines, which was the result of students being scared and notifying staff.

“Kids do talk more than they used to, because they’ve seen catastrophic things happening,” Schmitt said.


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