Included in President Barack Obama's plan to curb gun violence are proposals to help schools develop and implement safety plans.
Monterey County school districts — like many throughout California — were working on updates before the president's announcement.
By law, all California schools must have a "comprehensive school safety plan" that includes an array of procedures in case of emergencies, including what to do if an earthquake strikes, if an intruder enters the school campus or how to report child abuse. These reports have to be updated annually between March 1 and Oct. 1, but the latest renewal took on new urgency in the wake of December's shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
Safety plans were first required in 2000, a year after two students at Columbine High School in Colorado killed 12 of their peers and one teacher.
The plans have to be approved by a school site council, a group of parents, community members, teachers and other school personnel. In the upper grades, the site council includes students.
The groups are a good vehicle to ensure community representation, said Monterey County Superintendent of Schools Nancy Kotowski.
"It's very positive that, by law, you have a school site council," she said. "It's a very important tool to ensure all the voices are being heard.
Kotowski urged district officials to update their security procedures in December, something they apparently were already doing.
At the Monterey Peninsula Unified School District, administrators were already working on fencing Monterey High and other schools. As part of ongoing efforts to ensure school safety, officials have met with police chiefs of Marina, Seaside and Monterey, district spokeswoman Sharon Albert said in an email. They have updated their crisis management plans and practiced safety drills, intruder alerts and lockdowns.
These steps were not necessarily taken in response to the tragedy at Sandy Hook, Albert said.
"MPUSD has been engaged in an ongoing process to safeguard our schools since the events of 9/11 and Columbine," she said.
After Sandy Hook, most school districts communicated with parents — via letters, phone or email messages — about how they are addressing security concerns. If schools don't have "Columbine locks" — the type that a teacher can lock from inside the classroom — they're getting them. They're holding parent meetings where security procedures are reviewed. They're closing off entrances to allow only one point of entry, and tightening in-and-out registry requirements for guests.
"We have been fortunate in Soledad that our safety plans are in place at each site," said Deneen Newman, superintendent of the Soledad Unified School District, in an email. "However, due to the recent shootings, we are reviewing these plans to make sure that everyone is aware of their individual responsibilities in an emergency situation."
Similarly, teachers and staff at Santa Rita Union School District in Salinas have been reviewing procedures to ensure everyone's safety.
"I think that we are being more vigilant," Superintendent Mike Brusa said in an email. "People have had questions, but I am reluctant to elaborate more on procedures because someone could exploit that information."
Having response plans in place comes in handy in lockdown situations, whether in Salinas, where lockdowns are fairly common, or Pacific Grove, where a lockdown took place early Tuesday.
The Monterey Bay Charter School in Pacific Grove was put on lockdown about 9:30 a.m. after an unknown man dressed in camouflage "frantically" knocked on a classroom door, according to the Pacific Grove Police Department.
The man was not caught, but there was a good description of his appearance, so Principal Cassandra Bridge said she was confident he would be caught eventually.
The lockdown lasted about 30 minutes and it went smoothly, Bridge said.
"It's important to review these practices. We were scheduled to have a drill Thursday, but we had one today," she said Tuesday.
Obama's school safety plan unveiled Wednesday includes proposals to help districts develop safety plans, hire more resource officers and counselors, and find ways to improve school climate. He has ordered the Departments of Education, Justice, Health and Human Services, and Homeland Security to come up with model emergency management plans by May so they can be replicated across the country.
For Liz Modena, superintendent of the Gonzales Unified School District, the issue is larger than safety plans, locks and procedures, which address how school officials react to a threat.
"The bigger issue is what can we do as a community to create a safer environment for our children so they do not grow up to be angry teens and adults who act out violently," Modena wrote in an email.
To that effect, she plans to make presentations to the community about raising healthy children and to address the causes of violence.
"The intent is to address the causes of violence in a sensitive and strength-based approach that will foster a safe community," she said.
Claudia Meléndez Salinas can be reached at 753-6755 or firstname.lastname@example.org.