Security at Los Banos schools to be overhauled

By Corey Pride / Cpride@losbanosenterprise.comJanuary 25, 2013 

The Los Banos Unified School District is partnering with the Police Department to overhaul procedures to make schools safer.

"I don't think there can ever be an overreaction. Every time we have one of these (school shootings) happen, it's tragic and we ask, 'Could we have done something better?' I don't want to ask that question," said Superintendent Steve Tietjen.

Even before the Dec. 14 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, Tietjen said improving security was on his mind. The Newtown, Conn., shooting of 27, including 20 children, prompted him to take action.

Last week Tietjen met with the district's 11 principals and the school resource officer to discuss updating staff safety training and adding fencing.

"When we look at our school facilities, we have some real challenges regarding security of the campuses," Tietjen said. "When you visit a couple of our campuses, they're really wide open. You can walk up to the front gate. They're not directed to the front office immediately. It would be very difficult to control who comes on to those campuses."

R.M. Miano Elementary School is among campuses drawing the most concern. The school has classrooms that have doors that open into the parking lot. Before a gate was recently erected, blocking off the courtyard, people could easily bypass school staff and enter classrooms.

Antonio Rosales, Miano principal, said

he believes schools can never be too prepared. He has plans to ensure visitors stop at the main office first.

"We used to be an open campus where parents would go to a class to drop off a backpack or something. We just need to make sure parents are here for a purpose," Rosales said.

He said Miano has added an additional door to its front office. Rosales said the classrooms facing the parking lot will either have their doors sealed or fences placed around them. Children will be able exit those classrooms from doors leading to the school's interior.

Rosales said updated training for students and staff is also necessary because procedures change.

"I know at one point police asked that windows and doors not be covered so they could drive by and look and see if someone was inside. They don't want us to do that anymore," Rosales said.

At last week's school board meeting, Tietjen gave another example of an updated practice. He said police had advised teachers and students hide inside classrooms. More recently, he's heard of authorities advising that items be thrown at armed intruders because the moving target creates a distraction that could minimize casualties.

Police Chief Gary Brizzee said his department will work with the district to upgrade training for staff and students.

"It always evolves," Brizzee said. "It's all based on best practices. We learn from previous events. Something was a best practice, an event happens and something else becomes (a better practice)."

The district has security cameras at various school sites, but there is no live monitoring of them.

Tietjen said his main concern is that all schools in the district have one entrance point. He said at Charleston Elementary, visitors pass classrooms before entering the office. Tietjen said he wants to make the school's former library room the main office, eliminating the initial access of visitors to classes. However, Tietjen said, the change will likely not occur before summer because the new configuration will take money the school district does not yet have.

"It's going to take more than just moving a few desks," Tietjen said of the security plans for Charleston.

Since the Sandy Hook school massacre, some members of the National Rifle Association have proposed armed guards at schools. Tietjen did not comment on that idea, but he did say he believes mental health resources and adult intervention in cases of bullying are needed.

School board Trustee Carole Duffy said she's against the idea of armed guards, but she supports the district's efforts of making campuses safer. However Duffy, who sits on the school district's facilities committee, said she doesn't believe there's anything that can be done to guarantee safety.

"If somebody wanted to shoot somebody they're going to find a way to do it," she said.

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