RSF School board approves new safety and security positions

The R. Roger Rowe School campus.
(Karen Billing)

The Rancho Santa Fe School board is taking a stronger approach to ensuring the safety of everyone on the R. Roger Rowe School campus with the approval of a new board and staff positions focused on safety and security.

At a special meeting held on Jan. 23, the board approved a new bylaw establishing a board safety and security liaison, and approved the new position of director of safety, security, facilities and technology—a role that will be filled by the current Director of Facilities and Technology Ben Holbert. The position comes with no increase in salary.

The new board bylaw delegates authority for the liaison to have “unfettered physical access” to the district’s school and grounds for the purpose of observing and evaluating safety conditions. The delegation does not include classrooms where students are engaged in instruction. The liaison is not required to provide notice or register prior to conducting evaluations.

The position, providing the “eyes and ears for the board,” will be an annual appointment and Tree nominated trustee Paul Seitz to fill the position. Seitz was approved in a unanimous board vote.

“I think he is the obvious choice,” said RSF School Board President John Tree of Seitz, a retired Marine who has been outspoken about campus safety for years before being elected to the board. “I look forward to him being the inaugural liaison and setting a high standard for future board members to follow his footsteps.”

The issue of campus safety has been heightened at Rowe since last year, following the tragic school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, and closer to home, the arrest of a former school substitute teacher, Daniel Zachary Dasko. Dasko, who was a substitute teacher at Rowe for two years, was charged with distributing child pornography with federal prosecutors alleging that he solicited sexual images and videos from young boys.

Parents have questioned the district’s substitute teacher hiring practices, how easy it is to access the campus, and raised alarm about classroom doors being propped open, negating the impact of the school’s electronic lock system.

In addition to the new board and staff positions, at the Jan. 23 meeting the board approved security upgrades for the campus including a $15,000 expenditure for higher fencing along the front of the school, and $3,869 to add alarms and electronic locks to the school’s remaining gates without them.

Last year the board had directed the district to create a new staff safety and security position and it was the superintendent’s job to identify the person who would take on the new title and responsibilities. The position is Holbert’s existing title plus safety and security—he has been with the district for more than 30 years and Superintendent Donna Tripi said he knows the campus well and played a major role in determining the systems put in place when the campus was renovated.

Tripi said she combined the positions because the systems are integrated and they all work together. “Really there have been a lot of technology needs in terms of safety and security…this position marries all those pieces,” Tripi said. “I added in the maintenance and ensuring that the district maintenance and technology resources are delivered effectively and efficiently.”

Trustee Annette Ross was the sole vote against appointing Holbert to the new position. She questioned Tripi’s judgment and was opposed to having the tasks added to Holbert’s job responsibilities: “I think it’s a terrible idea.”

One of the tasks of the new staff position is working with the new board liaison to ensure that the physical campus provides the highest level of safety and security. Seitz acknowledged that there is a concern about the amount of time that will be required for the new responsibilities but that he believed that Holbert was capable: “Whoever you appoint I’m going to make it work in the capacity that we need,” Seitz said.

Board Vice President Rose Rohatgi said she, too, was hesitant at first as it did seem like a lot of work for one person but she was encouraged by Seitz’s endorsement. Tree said in the future, it’s possible the job could be split into two separate positions under new district leadership but for now Holbert will hold the role.

“It’s better than status quo or waiting for the new superintendent,” Tree said. “I don’t want to do nothing, I want to do something.”

At the board’s regular meeting later that week on Jan. 27, the board also discussed new alternative procedures to procure substitute teachers rather than utilizing the North County Coastal Substitute Consortium.

“We feel like it would enhance the safety and security of our students to make sure that we know who the subs are that are in the classrooms with them,” Tripi said.

Rather than go through the consortium, the district will hire a total of six site substitutes for the school year and create a list of 15-20 preferred substitutes. Rancho Santa Fe conducts both Department of Justice and FBI fingerprinting and clearances, and they will additionally vet substitutes for their teaching ability, reliability and rapport with students and staff.

At Seitz’s suggestion, the substitutes will also go through the school’s visitor management system VisitU, which now includes a check against the Megan’s Law database of registered sex offenders.