San Dieguito passes resolution addressing school violence

SDUHSD Trustee Katrina Young brought forward a new resolution on student safety.
(Karen Billing)

The San Dieguito Union High School District board unanimously passed a new resolution last week to reaffirm student safety and prevent violence on its campuses.

The resolution brought forward by SDUHSD Trustee Katrina Young came as a suggestion from a community member in response to the school shooting in Michigan on Nov. 30 that left four students dead and injured six others. The district has also experienced threats in its own community—most recently on Dec. 3, in-person classes at La Costa Canyon High School were cancelled after a threatening message was found on the wall of a campus bathroom. A similar threat was found at Carmel Valley Middle School on Dec. 14, prompting a late dismissal while the incident was investigated and the students responsible were identified. A nationwide threat on TikTok promoted acts of violence on Dec. 17.

The resolution reaffirmed one that the board passed in 2018.

“Our students and staff need to know that their emotional and physical safety is our top priority above all,” said Young. ”I believe it’s our duty to make sure that we create environments where everyone is safe and that we keep guns out of the hands of students that might do harm to themselves and others.”

The 2018 resolution was made in the wake of the Parkland High School shooting, in which 17 students were killed. This reaffirmed resolution was made on the ninth anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting, where 20 first graders and six teachers and staff members were murdered.

During public comment parent Robyne Ruterbusch, a member of the local chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, shared her support for the resolution and provided some “uncomfortable” statistics about why it should pass: This year alone there have been at least 150 incidents of gunfire on school campuses and 5.4 million American children live in a household with at least one gun that is loaded and unlocked.

“We can never forget why this stuff matters and we can never stop talking about it,” Ruterbusch said. “Common sense gun laws and safe storage of firearms save lives.”

SDUHSD Vice President Michael Allman said he fully supported the resolution but did not support the inclusion of language promoting an outright ban on semi-automatic firearms or the resolution’s allusion to the district lobbying the state and congress to pass specific gun legislation.

“To me, this gets out of the realm of where we are into the realm of national politics where I don’t think we belong,” Allman said. “Our jurisdiction is this school district and we should focus on our schools.”

San Dieguito’s 2018 resolution did include language supporting a ban on semi-automatic weapons. In similar resolutions made in 2018, all neighboring districts included the semi-automatic weapon ban, except for Del Mar Union School District. Allman said many community members own semi-automatic firearms and feel it is their right to do so and he thought the language would be divisive. Young agreed to make the edit to show respect to all views on Second Amendment rights.

The resolution’s language was also altered to state that the district supports current California gun laws rather than lobby for them, including the prevention of easy access to firearms through gun safes and/or locks. The inclusion of gun storage language was critical to SDUHSD Trustees Young and Julie Bronstein—the gun used by the 14-year-old shooter in Michigan was stored unlocked in his parents’ bedroom; his parents have been charged with involuntary manslaughter.

The resolution states that within a 90-day period, the district will commit to reviewing its comprehensive safety plan in the event that an incident or threat of violence occurs on a school site, including a streamlined communication plan. The resolution also states that within 90 days, the district will commit to steps to prevent school violence including support measures for students experiencing anxiety, aggressive behaviors or violent thoughts.

“We are already working on safety measures so the resolution in my mind just reaffirms our commitment to ensuring the safety of the community,” said SDUHSD Superintendent Cheryl James Ward. “We are going to do the work and this says we are going to do the work.”

Returning to school post-pandemic has been a challenge across the country and threats to self and others are on the rise, said SDUHSD Deputy Superintendent Mark Miller.

San Dieguito has worked with the San Diego County Office of Education to establish a process to assess threats to self and others and a plan for student re-entry with support services and restorative justice practices. All administration is trained in threat assessment, there is a crisis response team and Miller believes every adult on campus is a trusted adult that students can turn to.

“While we have these processes, I cannot stress enough that it’s the ‘See something, Say something’ that is the backbone…I encourage students and parents to please report their suspicions,” Miller said. The district utilizes the anonymous WeTip online reporting service and 24-hour hotline posted on its website.

“This is an extremely tough time to be a student…There is a lot going on,” Miller continued. “Our students need love and support and it takes a community effort to provide that. As adults, I believe we have an obligation to be calm beacons of hope for students. We need to ensure that we are modeling empathy and grace and kindness to each other.”

To address mental health needs, the district has counselors, psychologists and student support specialists (social workers) on staff and on Dec. 14, the board approved the hiring of an additional two licensed marriage and family therapists to provide wrap-around services for students and families.

“We take mental health very seriously,” Ward said. “No family should feel that a mental health issue is a burden they should carry alone.”