Prompted by last week's horrific school shooting in Connecticut, a South Bay lawmaker plans to introduce legislation that would impose penalties on California schools that fail to create or keep current an emergency response plan.
State Sen. Ted Lieu's proposed legislation - which is so new it doesn't yet have a bill number - would require the state Department of Education to withhold funds from schools that are out compliance, and to shame such schools by listing their names on the department's website, according to a press release released by Lieu's office Monday.
"As of last year, no district has even been fined for failing to report a school that has not developed a school-safety plan," Lieu, D-Redondo Beach, said in a statement. "As a result, too many schools either have no school safety plan or have failed to update or disseminate their plan."
Lieu's office claims that up to a third of all middle schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District have no safety plan at all, and that a little more than half of them have plans that are either out of date or largely ignored by staff.
Lieu's office attributed these stats to online school report cards from 2009, reportedly the latest data available.
But LAUSD spokeswoman Gayle Pollard-Terry said the district mandates that every school have a safety plan.
"I don't know if we have 100 percent compliance, but ... I'd be surprised if what he says is true," she said, adding that the person in charge of the program is on vacation.
In any event, Lieu's bill - co-authored by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg of Sacramento, a fellow Democrat - was actually introduced in 2011, after a hunt for a suspected gunman in Los Angeles reportedly led police to remark that some schools were woefully unprepared for such an event.
However, the bill failed to pass. Lieu plans to reintroduce it with a minor amendment requiring individual school plans to specifically address school-shooter scenarios.
One local district that recently found itself putting its safety plan in motion is Palos Verdes Unified. Police were searching The Hill for two suspects wanted in connection with an early morning robbery of a convenience store in Redondo Beach, causing three schools to go into lockdown. One school - Rancho Vista Elementary - was in lockdown for six hours.
When schools in Palos Verdes Unified go on lockdown, students who are not in a classroom must head to the nearest one, regardless of whether it is theirs, said Lydia Cano, the district's deputy superintendent. Teachers all have color-coded cards that they hang on the outside of their locked doors, to indicate to rescuers sweeping the halls the situation inside. A green card signals that everybody is accounted for and nobody is hurt. A red card indicates that somebody inside is injured.
At Riviera Elementary in Torrance Unified, the school performs regular unannounced drills, activated by a Morse codelike message from the school's bells. A long tone followed by two short tones initiates a lockdown drill in which students must immediately head to the nearest classroom, cafeteria or office.
Three short tones initiates an earthquake drill, in which students are instructed to perform a "duck, cover and hold" drill that usually involves crawling underneath their desks.
On Monday, Principal Christie Forshey said teachers did not mention the shooting to their students, and that some parents told her they don't plan on bringing it up.
She did send home a letter that included tips on how to address the issue with early elementary school children.
One such tip: Be brief and keep it simple, and balance that information with reassurances that your child's school and home are safe places.
"I have three kids, and taking them to school today, it felt a little different," Forshey said.
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