Rancho Santa Fe School District discusses school safety improvements

The Rancho Santa Fe School Distric
The Rancho Santa Fe School District plans to keep the front doors locked 30 minutes after school starts. Those approaching the school can be seen on a large TV monitor.
(Karen Billing)

In light of the tragic shooting in Texas, the loss of 19 young elementary school students and two teachers, schools across the country are reflecting on safety measures and what they can do to keep students safe.

At its June 3 meeting, the Rancho Santa Fe School District board had a difficult conversation about preventing unthinkable tragedies at school, balancing continuing to make safety improvements on campus while still ensuring that school remains a friendly and welcoming environment for children.

“It’s an awful topic to talk about,” RSF School Board Trustee John Tree said. “It’s a traumatic and painful thing to even think about.”

Rancho Santa Fe took action after the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., forming a Safety Advisory Committee and conducting a hazard and vulnerability study. One of the recommendations to come out of the committee and the district’s safety consultant was to outfit the door of every occupied space on campus (all 71 doors) with electronic locks. The $424,000 system was installed in 2019.

The district also took steps to limit campus access points, conducted emergency training sessions, installed the VisitU visitor management system and added additional surveillance cameras, including the security camera and TV monitor for the front office as the school’s large wooden front doors don’t allow front desk staff to see who is approaching.

Following a theft on campus after last year’s Halloween parade, RSF School District Superintendent Donna Tripi said she met with staff about situational awareness, stopping visitors on campus without badges and not keeping classroom doors propped open. They added a new alert system when visitors are on campus and added supervision for after school.

Tripi said communication has been set up with the library and community center, which shares access points with the school, and they have spoken with the Rancho Santa Fe Patrol about being on-site more and the sheriff’s department about providing extra support for big events.

Recommendations for improvements include locking the front door to the school 30 minutes after school starts (with visitors required to be buzzed in), making some fencing higher along the front of the school and adding the electronic locks to the school’s remaining gates, a cost of about $10,000 to $15,000.

Feedback from parents has been that the front desk is not always staffed and the district is also out of practice with the VisitU system as during the pandemic they didn’t have many visitors—improvements will need to be made in both areas, Tripi said.

Tripi said they also plan to do more active assailant training and emergency preparedness drills as well as teaching the signs of suicide to middle school students, and stressing the importance of having a trusted adult on campus for every student to go to if they believe someone is a threat to themselves or others. Tripi said they plan to work hard on social-emotional learning next year, “making sure the mental health needs of students are met.”

RSF School Board President Jee Manghani and the board supported having the front door locked and visitors being buzzed in as a new practice and the board requested to add the expense of additional access control for the gates to a future agenda.

“Obviously we all like to live under the innocent bubble of Rancho Santa Fe where we think nothing bad is ever going to happen but I think a lot of communities thought that for their own schools also,” Tree said.

Tree said the school does have a lot of hardware in place that is useful for deterrence but it is only useful if it is being used—for example, taking advantage of the visitor management system and not propping open doors with electronic locks. He urged Tripi to continue with frequent training for staff and drills for students so they will be prepared to respond to an emergency.

RSF School Board Trustee Kali Kim agreed but added that drills done with students should be done thoughtfully, so they are not traumatizing.