Campus safety in focus following shooting at Michigan HS

California requires schools to have safety plans at the ready

Seal Beach Police held active-shooter drills on the campus of McGaugh Elementary School in 2018. File photo

Campus safety is a top concern for parents, teachers, school administrators and law enforcement.

Just this week, a student was taken into custody in connection with an apparent threat on social media targeting an unnamed school in Orange County, according to Buena Park Police.

And last week’s deadly shooting at Oxford High School in Michigan has sparked discussions about safety protocols on campuses.

A 15-year-old sophomore is facing terrorism and murder charges in the Nov. 30 shooting that left four students dead and injured six more students and a teacher at the campus 30 miles outside Detroit. The student’s parents have been charged with involuntary manslaughter.

A timeline of events released by district officials shows what happened preceding the tragedy.

The day before the shooting, a teacher reported seeing the student now charged in the shooting looking at bullets on his phone in class, according to a statement from Oxford Community Schools Superintendent Tim Throne. The student told a counselor and staff member that “shooting sports are a family hobby.”

In the morning before the shooting, the student was again sent to school counselors and his parents were called to campus after a teacher was alarmed by some of the student’s drawings including one of a handgun with the words: “The thoughts won’t stop. Help me,” reports the Associated Press. The student said the drawings were related to a video game he was designing.

“While both of his parents were present, counselors asked specific probing questions regarding the potential for self-harm or harm to others. His answers, which were affirmed by his parents during the interview, led counselors to again conclude he did not intend on committing either self-harm or harm to others,” according to Throne.

The counselors said the parents must get their child counseling within 48 hours. The parents refused to take their son home from school and apparently went to work, Throne wrote. “Given the fact that the child had no prior disciplinary infractions, the decision was made he would be returned to the classroom rather than sent home to an empty house.” Counselors did not notify the principal or the assistant principal of the incidents, Throne’s statement says.

A few hours later, the shooting occurred during a passing period as hundreds of students transitioned between classes. Throne said actions taken then by students and staff saved lives and prevented the shooter from entering any classrooms. “Before the shooter was able to walk a short distance to enter the main hallway, students and staff had already entered classrooms, locked doors, erected makeshift barricades and locked down or fled according to their training.”

The school district is launching its own investigation by a third party. “It’s critically important to the victims, our staff and our entire community that a full and transparent accounting be made,” Throne wrote.

Local reaction

At the December meeting of the McGaugh Elementary School PTA, multiple parents brought up the shooting in Michigan with questions about safety protocols at their campus.

McGaugh Principal Dr. Issaic Gates told attendees at the online meeting that the safety of students and staff “is the top priority on my mind every day.” He said he would outline the school’s safety protocols at a meeting being planned with the Seal Beach Police Department.

In 2018, LAUSD held a Town Hall on campus safety in McGaugh’s auditorium following a mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida.

“Undoubtedly, the safety and welfare of all children, faculty, and staff at McGaugh Elementary School, remain our number one priority,” Seal Beach Police Chief Phil Gonshak wrote in an email message on Monday.

Chief Gonshak outlined some of the security measures in place at McGaugh including the locking of all campus gates after morning drop off, a video monitor at the entrance of the front office, dozens of security cameras installed on campus that SBPD can access 24/7, and frequent visits from SBPD officers.

Three years ago, the SBPD conducted active-shooter drills at McGaugh, the only LAUSD campus in Seal Beach, and Chief Gonshak said training is ongoing.

Salon Meritage in Seal Beach was the site of the deadliest mass shooting in Orange County history. Eight people were killed in the 2011 tragedy.

A Dec. 3 tweet from the Orange County Fire Authority noted it was also recently training with the O.C. Sheriff’s Department to respond to active-shooter events. “Our hope is to never have to respond to one of these calls. However, should the unfortunate happen we will be ready,” the tweet read.

The OCFA serves Seal Beach, Rossmoor and Los Alamitos.

Safety protocols in LAUSD

California requires schools to have Comprehensive School Safety Plans (CSSPs) that are updated and adopted by March 1 annually.

In the Los Alamitos Unified School District, the CSSPs are created and approved by the School Site Council, a group of administrators and elected parent volunteers, at each campus. The plans are then reviewed and approved by the Los Alamitos Board of Education, according to the district’s website. Copies of the CSSPs are available by calling (562) 799-4700 extension 80412.

The district has a Threat Assessment Team that may be called, in addition to law enforcement, to deal with “any threat aimed to harm or injure students or staff, or directed at a campus in general.” The team is made up of school officials from “multiple disciplines” including counselors, school psychologists, school resource officers, teachers and administrators who are collectively trained to evaluate risk.

“Although very few incidents of this nature occur, the Los Alamitos Unified School District is committed to take all necessary precautions to keep our school campuses, staff and students safe,” reads the website. It urges parents and students to tell school staff any information they have related to threat-making behavior.  “The most effective means of combating a potential act of violence in our schools is communication among the students, parents and the school.”

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