ANTIOCH -- Parents should feel good about dropping children off at school in the morning knowing they will return home safe and sound.
That was the overriding theme of a recent Antioch Unified study session reviewing campus security inside and outside of the classroom.
The December shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., served as a "wake-up call" to schools nationwide, as well as Antioch, about the vulnerability of school campuses, school board President Joy Motts said. Meanwhile, a couple of notable instances of student bullying inside Antioch's classroom compelled district leaders to reexamine that ongoing issue.
"If students don't feel safe and comfortable, how can we expect them to have higher academic achievement?" Motts asked. "Now that we're in a little bit better position financially, we need to look at what we have to do and where our priorities are, and what we can address."
Some site administrators were asked at the Feb. 6 meeting to share their safety needs -- not only in case of a gunman entering campus, but in case of a disaster such as an earthquake or pipeline explosion.
Deer Valley High Principal Ken Gardner told the group that only eight of the school's 32 security cameras work, while some are obstructed by large trees.
By comparison, smaller Antioch High has 16 cameras that are functioning.
Gardner is working with district officials to have the trees trimmed or removed to increase
The campus, designed to have an open community college feel, has 26 gated exits and entrances that must remain open during school hours in case of fire, Gardner said. None of them have panic bars or lever locks so they could be closed to the outside yet easily opened during an emergency. It took 10 minutes to lock up all the gates during a lockdown last year, he said.
Fencing is also needed on the east side of the campus, Gardner said.
Antioch Unified maintenance and operations director David Kundert is in the process of visiting all of the district's 25 campuses.
Antioch High Principal Louie Rocha also expressed his concerns.
Adding school site safety and closing the campus has helped in recent years, but there were four instances of campus lockdowns because of gunfire in the neighborhood surrounding the school last year, with one stray bullet breaking glass in the main hallway on a half-day, he said.
Rocha is lobbying to have the city close East 18th Street in front of campus during school hours. The closed street would keep speeding cars from speeding in front of campus and possibly hitting students and also deter non-students from entering the school.
John Jimno and Sylvia Ramirez, principals of Park Middle School and Kimball Elementary, respectively, also shared site issues. There are some areas of Park that could be tightened up, while Kimball and Antioch Middle are two of the district's more secure schools, Kundert said.
A critical issue for Antioch Unified is that it has no police on campus in the form of school resource officers, a casualty of both city and district budget cuts. District officials went to last week's presentation to the City Council by police Chief Allan Cantando to drive home that the officers on campus are needed and school safety must be promoted.
"It's going to take all of us working together, we all have a responsibility," Motts said, nothing that almost 19,000 students are in Antioch school every day.
The other emphasis at the district's Feb. 6 meeting was bullying.
A recently surfaced video showing a female student harassing another girl at Antioch High, while frequent district critic Willie Mims brought up a recent case where a child in special education brought a knife to school because of bullying threats.
Antioch Unified has a "systemic bullying problem" and has been an "outright failure" in dealing with it, he said.
Bullying is an issue that hasn't adequately addressed for decades, not just in Antioch, but schools throughout the nation, Motts said.
The district has been meeting with Liberty Union and other neighboring districts, hoping to incorporate anti-bullying programs they use such as Rachel's Challenge.
Motts said she is working with Superintendent Donald Gill, Mayor Wade Harper and Cantando on a concerted citywide effort to "get on the same page" and encourage residents, particularly children, to be more civil and hospitable toward others whether they are on the streets or at home.
"We've got to find a way to turn this around. Hopefully through that work, we can start making a difference," she said.
Antioch Unified plans to have follow-up meetings on safety later in the spring.
Contact Paul Burgarino at 925-779-7164. Follow him at Twitter.com/paulburgarino.