East County school districts review active shooter policies | News

East County school districts review active shooter policies | News

In the wake of the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, last month, East County districts are reviewing their active shooter policies and preparing to update training in an effort to keep students and staff safe before the new school year begins.

Most districts have not highlighted this type of training in the past two years as the struggles of distance learning and the COVID-19 pandemic took center stage.

In the Liberty Union High School District, Superintendent Eric Volta said he has been in touch with both Brentwood and Oakley police departments to set up active shooter exercises on the high school campuses over the summer.

“This way, law enforcement has a good feeling for our campuses and what classrooms look like and so forth,” Volta said. “They all have keys to our facilities, and the school resource officers (SRO) have keys, so no one will be waiting outside of a door for a custodian to show up.”

Volta added that all school sites in his district had been through ALICE (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate) active shooter training just before the pandemic, and school resource officers were getting a refresher course this summer.

“Our Heritage High School SRO just finished his certification to be an ALICE trainer, and we regularly update our safety plans for this type of thing,” Volta said. “Unfortunately, we do intruder shutdown drills as much as we do fire drills. It’s just one of the many trainings we do at the beginning of the year with our teachers.”

Brentwood Union School District Superintendent Dr. Dana Eaton said his district has a strong relationship with the Brentwood Police Department and has worked on ALICE training to help prepare students and staff on how to deal with an intruder.

“We started trainings with staff in 2018 that have included multiple staff presentations along with actual role-playing scenarios, without students, where staff are in a classroom and our police trainers enter the room,” Eaton said. “We also worked to create video lessons that are age-appropriate to help our students be prepared.”

Eaton noted the district has a full-time SRO who works on campuses. Staff also promote Say Something, an anonymous early-warning reporting system that warns principals and police when a tip is received about a potentially threatening situation..

“Often, tips that come in late at night, or early in the morning are acted upon by our partners in the Brentwood Police Department prior to school starting,” Eaton said. “In almost every school shooting that has taken place, someone, or multiple people, had knowledge prior that could have prevented the tragedies that followed.”

Brentwood has made physical changes to campuses over the past 10 years, adding fences, locked gates and hundreds of security cameras. There is also an internal system requiring volunteers arriving on campus to scan their driver’s license through a system that runs a background check for criminal activity. Brentwood police officers perform safety assessments of the school sites and run drills on campuses during summer break.

Oakley Union Elementary School District Superintendent Jeff Palmquist sent a letter to families before school let out detailing the district’s physical and emotional safety precautions.

“The Oakley Police Department continues to be an excellent partner in keeping our schools and community safe,” said Palmquist. “They review each site safety plan, assign officers to support our school communities, and respond when their assistance is needed. Furthermore, we work collaboratively with them to identify areas to strengthen overall safety.”

In Knightsen Elementary School District, Superintendent Harvey Yurkovich said his staff had gone through “Run, hide, defend” training just before school campuses closed down in March of 2020. He also went through ALICE training and brought those resources back to his district.

“We had a presentation and went through the scenario of what our response would be up until the sheriff arrives, and they gave a presentation on what their response would be,” he said. “We discussed getting the children to a safe area and signing them out to adults.”

Yurkovich noted the actual shooting is only the beginning. Staff and students who had survived such an event would need counseling and support before the campus could feel like a safe place again.

Knightsen students have learned how to barricade classrooms with desks and what the procedures are for a lockdown. It’s more difficult to practice these drills, Yurkovich said, because you don’t want students walking in orderly lines if someone on campus is trying to harm them.

Byron Union School District Superintendent Dr. Reyes Gauna said his staff began ALICE training earlier this year. The district is also working with local fire and police services for further support.

“Since the Uvalde incident, our local Sheriff’s department has placed a deputy at each school during the morning hours to offer support and be a presence on our campuses,” Gauna said. “We are thankful for this support. Our district takes the safety of our students and staff very seriously and want to ensure that all appropriate measures are being taken to ensure that.”

Among police agencies, Lt. Mark Johnson, Delta Station Commander for the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office, said his officers do their best to familiarize themselves with local school campuses and meet kids under non-stressful circumstances.

“We do ‘recess with a cop’ at the local schools, and that gives us a familiarity with the campuses, so we know where things are and what doors are locked,” Johnson said. “Our deputies carry active shooter kits with ballistic helmets and heavy vests, and they can put that on very quickly and go in when necessary.”

Johnson said that active shooter situations in schools are handled the same way they are anywhere else.

“We try to get there as soon as possible and the first officer that gets there goes in,” he said. “We are not waiting, we are not setting up a perimeter. We are going in. A lot of these active shooters, once law enforcement gets on scene, either commit suicide, give up or turn their attention on us, so that’s good, because we want to get their attention off the victims.”