2001 Final Report:
School Safety Preparedness
Recent acts of violence on school campuses cause parents, school officials, and the general public to question the sufficiency of school safety programs. The 2000-2001 Grand Jury surveyed safety in grades 6-12 and distributed the results to assist school administrators in identifying issues that might jeopardize school safety. The 2001-2002 Grand Jury extended that survey to include grades K-5 and community colleges. The collected data for all grade levels is reported and analyzed in this report.
The 2001-2002 Grand Jury also sponsored a workshop for school superintendents and senior public safety officers to explore the concept and use of "lock-down" drills (i.e., drills to practice locking all classrooms from the inside immediately upon the receipt of a specific alarm) in the schools, as well as examining the need for additional security resources.
Issue: Are public schools in San Mateo County safe from violence? Are reporting mechanisms in place to alert school officials and parents of possible school security problems? Are more resources needed to provide adequate school security?
Many articles and reports have been published recently on the issue of violence in U.S. schools. All public California schools, K-12, are required to report such data quarterly to the State Department of Education California Safe Schools Assessment (CSSA) unit. See reference 1, page 3.
The 2000-2001 Grand Jury conducted a one-time survey of the ability and preparedness of San Mateo County high schools to respond to violence on campus. That survey inquired into safety programs implemented throughout the county that help protect more than 26,000 students then enrolled in public high schools. A questionnaire was sent to the school administrators at each of the county's 27 public high schools. A 100% return yielded the high school data that were published in the 2000-2001 Grand Jury report, which are repeated in the exhibit attached to this report.
Using the same questionnaire, the 2000-2001 Grand Jury collected the corresponding data for all the public middle schools in the county, but did not have sufficient time to include them in its report. Those data, representing a 100% response for the 31 public middle schools, are also summarized in the exhibit. The 2000-2001 Grand Jury recommended that "[t]he 2001-2002 Grand Jury evaluate the results of the survey distributed to middle and intermediate schools." See reference 2, page 3. This report provides that recommended evaluation.
The 2001-2002 Grand Jury saw value in expanding this survey to the more than 70 public K-5 grades and the three community colleges (Canada College, College of San Mateo, and Skyline College) and sent the same questionnaire to those administrators. Data for these two sectors are also summarized in the exhibit.
The exhibit, therefore, includes responses to a common questionnaire sent to all four sectors of the public education system in San Mateo County, i.e., K-5, middle school, high school, and community college.
The data in the exhibit suggest some general findings that apply to all grade levels: (1) almost all campuses completed a site-specific emergency action plan that included school violence response procedures, (2) most of the schools' governing boards reviewed those emergency plans during that year, and (3) most schools conducted in-service emergency response training (including school violence procedures) for staff members.
Administrators for every grade level reported that threats were made against students or staff during this reporting period, and most K-12 campuses had a written policy (generally a District policy) concerning the response when persons make threats to students and staff on campus. All three colleges had site-specific emergency plans that included school violence response procedures, and written policies concerning persons making a threat to students or staff on campus. Firearms were confiscated on campus in all grade levels during the academic year surveyed, e.g., one BB gun at a K?5 school, one BB gun at a middle school, one unspecified firearm at a high school, and one unspecified firearm at a community college.
A majority of the K-12 schools conducted a lock-down drill. None of the community colleges conducted a lock-down drill. About 45% of the middle schools did not conduct a lock-down drill, even though 71% of these schools' administrators reported that threats had been made against students or staff in the year surveyed, and 6% reported that firearms had been confiscated on campus during the year surveyed. Data for the high schools are similar: 37% of the high schools reported that they did not conduct a lock-down drill during the year reported, even though 70% reported that threats had been made against students or staff in the year surveyed.
Because of the seeming under-utilization of the valuable lock-down tool, the 2001-2002 Grand Jury invited all police chiefs, fire chiefs, and school superintendents in the county to a half-day public meeting at the County Center on September 24, 2001, hosted by Judge Mark Forcum, to review this practice. Representatives from nearly all of the above mentioned offices attended.
With regard to the need for the assignment of police officers to the schools, the K-8 segment generally did not identify a need for either a full-time or part-time police officer as a resource officer, and in their written comments, several K-5 schools noted the positive working relationships that they already had with their local police departments. The high schools split almost evenly on a need for assignment of a part-time officer and showed little support for the assignment of a full-time officer. One of the colleges had a full-time security chief, a second college felt the need for a full-time officer, and the third college did not indicate a need for additional security resources. None of the community colleges identified the need for a part-time officer.
When asked, "Does your school need additional support and/or resources to effectively respond to a school emergency involving violence on campus?" the high schools responded with 59% "Yes", but the K-5, college, and middle schools had lower affirmative responses (28%, 33%, and 48 %, respectively).
Notable write-in comments included: (1) requests for telephones in the classrooms, (2) doors that can be easily locked from inside the room, and (3) written communications on the topic of classroom security.
The 2000-2001 Grand Jury recommended that "[a]ll San Mateo County public high schools devise and publish the results of a school violence safety survey twice each school year, utilizing the exhibit as a sample form. Each school district should ensure that schools in each jurisdiction comply." Education Code §4044 and Penal Code §628, et. seq., mandate that public schools, K-12, make quarterly reports to the state that include much of the information asked for in the above recommendation. The CSSA unit publishes an annual report, as well as reports for specific school districts that summarize the frequency of specific violent or dangerous acts reported from those districts. The CSSA report, which is published on or before every March 1, contains much more information and detail than that suggested by the 2000-2001 Grand Jury report, covers every school district in the state, and is available online at www.cde.ca.gov/spbranch/safety and in print. The state-mandated CSSA report eliminates the need for the report recommended by the 2000-2001 Grand Jury.
The CSSA report compares each district in the context of other local districts, as well as statewide. In at least one San Mateo County school district this report is on the agenda annually at a regular school board meeting and is discussed fully in public session. The 2001-2002 Grand Jury believes that the CSSA report is significant enough that its receipt should result in an automatic placement on school board and PTA agendas for public discussion, as a way of informing parents and schools staffs about the nature and extent of violence in their local schools.
2. Combating school violence should become part of the academic program at all public education entities within San Mateo County. Lock-down drills with students, for example, should be conducted twice yearly at each campus.
3. Working telephones should be provided in each classroom.
4. Where appropriate, all classroom areas should be equipped with door locks that can easily be secured from the inside, with a "panic" emergency release feature that operates from inside the room.
2. "Public High School Safety Preparedness", in San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury 2000-2001 Final Report. (June 2001). pp.145-147