RESPONSE FROM JEFFERSON UNION HIGH SCHOOL DISTRICT
The Jefferson Union High School District has reviewed the recommendation of the Grand Jury concerning High School Safety Preparedness. While we recognize the spirit of the recommendation, we have numerous concerns. The opinion of the Grand Jury appears to have been formed on the basis of a brief survey to principals without the benefit of Principal interview, interpretation or discussion of the intent of the issues involved. In our opinion, some of the questions were ambiguous and, therefore, open to interpretation and intent.
For example, Question #10 asks, "Does your school need additional support and/or resources to effectively respond to a school emergency involving violence on campus?" 59% said "Yes, while 41% responded, "No." All high schools everywhere can use more help. However, if the question refers to a violent assault on a campus involving automatic weapons, I do not believe any school with only school personnel is equipped to effectively respond without additional outside help. Was this the intent of the question or was it seeking to ascertain whether "You would like some additional help or resources?" or "Do you perceive your campus to be safe without any support from anyone else?" What is the question really asking? Honestly, I do not know any school that can go it alone! In this day and age, every school can use more assistance. To say otherwise, is to fool oneself. We have full-time resource officers (Daly City Police Officers) on two of our campuses and are in discussion with the Pacifica Police Department to provide the same for our Pacifica high schools. We believe this approach provides excellent assistance and expertise.
Question #6 asks "Have any students or staff reported threats made against them to the school's administration during the 2000-01 academic year?" Since this survey is in the context of Columbine High School and Santana High School, one would have to assume that the threat is very serious and involves weapons or explosives or a real threat to life. I would be interested to know if 70% of the high schools experienced this type of threat. Or are we including the student, who has not premeditated an action, but retorts to his teacher in anger after being failed for talking during a test, or being sent to the office for an offense he or she believes he/she was unjustly accused of-and retorts "You had better watch out!" Obviously, the latter is serious and is handled in a serious manner according to school and district policy, but it is very different from a "threat" to "bring a gun," or to "blow up the school." These questions would find a variety of different responses in schools. What question was the Grand Jury asking? The response may be different, but totally accurate depending on the manner of the question.
Each year, each school district in the State of California is required to report information to the State on a variety of offenses. This material is tabulated and provided to the Legislature and the public via the news media and internet (available at http://www.cde.ca.gov/spbranch/safety) for every district in the State. This report is extensive and is published on or before March 1st each year as required by State law. Schools in San Mateo County go to great lengths to report this information accurately and correctly. Staff are trained in reporting in order to be consistent with the rest of the State. The report accurately reflects school districts in the County and compares them in the context of other local districts as well as statewide. Each year this report is agendized as part of a regular board meeting in the Jefferson Union High School District and discussed fully in public session. This appears to be an effective method to report that uses a consistent standard.
Additionally, the School Accountability Report Card (SARC) is published each year for each school in the County. There is a section of this report that addresses school safety, providing information about programs and the school's successes. While this document is an overall report on the school and its program, it does provide a comprehensive view of school directions, conditions and results. There is a section on safety. This section could be expanded at the desire of the individual school. It is published each year in each district by State Law and is posted on each school district's website.
Finally, each school in the Jefferson Union High School District provides regular newsletters and communications to parents and guardians. These communications often discuss issues around school safety and what parents and schools can do together to promote safe and healthy campuses. If a matter of urgent concern arises on a particular campus, the newsletter provides a further opportunity for parents to be aware and involved. Regular PTA parent meetings provide further opportunities for reporting and discussion.
It is our feeling that an additional document reported on a twice a year basis may be redundant. The Jefferson Union High School District will respond to the spirit of the recommendation and seek the most appropriate vehicle to communicate safety information.