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Local Schools Are Getting Their Guard Up PDF Print E-mail
Written by Alex Garcia   
Thursday, 10 January 2013 05:50

Police Patrols Are Renewed And Safety Guidelines Are Reviewed After Connecticut Tragedy

San Fernando Police officers were present at all city schools Monday Jan. 7, to assure the safety of all involved, as students returned to classes after the winter break. "We sent patrols to every school in the city.

It was well received," said San Fernando Police Department Chief Robert Parks of the effort that emulated those of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and several other agencies in response to the recent tragic events in Newtown, Conn. On Dec. 14, 20-year-old Adam Lanza went into the Sandy Hook Elementary School and open fired, killing 26 people, including 20 children at the campus. "We wanted to be as visible as we possibly can," said Lt. Tony Vairo of the SFPD in regards to the deployment of officers throughout city campuses.

Anarosa Estevez, director of the Vaughn Charter G3 campus in Pacoima, said she noticed increased patrols around the schools after the Connecticut massacre and hopes those continue.

"Police have been more visible. They'll drive by more often," said Estevez, who this week was preparing to return to classes on Wednesday, Jan 9.

She also said that following the shooting in Connecticut, one of their parents, who is a police officer, showed up in uniform to the school winter performance.

"He said he wanted to make himself known," said Estevez, who added the school has direct communication with the LAPD's Foothill Station.

Estevez said they have updated and changed safety guidelines as a result of the Connecticut incident.

"We already had a school wide security program where teachers already know what they have to do. And we have monthly fire and lockdown drills documented every month," Estevez said. "After what happened in Connecticut, we met as a team and we made adjustments.

"One of the things we did was make sure everyone has an ID on them when they enter the school," she continued. "If we have a visitor on campus, they have to have a pass on them and it has to be clearly visible. The staff is trained to stop them (visitors) if they don't have a pass on them."

Estevez said that at dismissal time, "teachers are supervising who picks up the students" to make sure parents and caretakers are the only ones who take them.

"It takes a little more time, but it's important that we do that," Estevez said, adding that parents understand the added security measures and appreciate them.

In the end, she said, it's about letting the parents and students know that "this is a place where they [children] can come and not worry about the outside."

In a few weeks, Estevez plans to organize a school wide forum to let parents know about the new protocols.

"We want them to know that safety is of the utmost importance to us," said Estevez. She was not the only principal contacted by the San Fernando Sun/El Sol re-evaluating or tweaking their school's safety and security procedures.

Olivia Robledo, principal of San Fernando Institute For Applied Media (SFiAM), already had parent volunteers providing morning supervision for students. SFiAM will now assign adults to monitor "strategic places" during nutrition and lunch times. She and assistant principal Michael Harrington are planning an evening meeting with parents to discuss other ideas to enhance safety.

"It's to reassure parents why we feel we have a safe campus, and if they have any ideas on what we could differently," Robledo said.

She said the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) has mandated daily searches of student backpacks and other items where things can be stored. She understands some students can feel uncomfortable by the searches but said she tells them the purpose is safety.

"And if we find something inappropriate we confiscate it," Robledo said Ruben Cortez, principal Santa Rosa Elementary, a private Catholic school in San Fernando, said, "We have changed how people can come into our offices, and how we deal with them. Otherwise we are reminding our staff to be diligent, so we can act before something occurs."

Even pre-schools, like the Poverello School in Sylmar for ages 3-5, are making adjustments. Principal Sister Mary Fatima said that, after getting a parent's email questioning if there would be any changes, it was decided to limit the entrance to the school to one door, and other doors on campus that were previously opened are now locked. In addition, a guard will be placed at the front gate starting Friday, Jan. 11.

"It's a sign of the times. You just have to do it," she said.

The reactions by principals were not just limited to the City of San Fernando. Sondra Reynolds, principal of Byrd Middle School in Sun Valley, said neither she nor her staff heard any concerns from students or parents about safety when school resumed this week. Nonetheless, a delivery gate that was normally left open is now locked. And she changed the code words used to alert teachers to a potential situation.

Reynolds also has two new LAPD policemen on campus, in addition to the regular full-time school policeman. She said the officers are there to learn the physical layout of the school in case the LAPD needed to respond there.

"Safety is always the No.1 issue," said Reynolds, adding she regularly reviews school safety plans with parents.

None of the principals spoke against the increased police presence, be it personnel or patrols around their campus. It is not known how long the added police will be available – some principals thought it might be just a couple of weeks – but the heightened sense of alertness is welcome.

More than anything, Robledo said, the students need to feel a sense of normalcy as well as security.

"I think a lot of the response (to Sandy Hook) is how we as adults are feeling," she said. "If we carry fear around, it is transmitted to students.

"We have to feel comfortable in what we do. And we do everything we can to keep a safe campus."

Free Booklet, "Responding to Children's Reactions to Disasters"

NORTHRIDGE, CA – It is natural for parents to try to shield children from the violence and tragedy seen in the news. However, with today's fast and abundant sources of information, young people are often exposed to news of tragic and difficult- to-understand events. The Child and Family Guidance Center offers the free online booklet, "Responding to Children's Reactions to Disasters," for parents and caregivers who are coping with their children's reactions to trauma.

The booklet covers symptoms of trauma for parents to look for, based on a child's age; emergency safety planning for human-caused disasters, as well as for earthquakes, fires and weather-related disasters; and tips on parents' reactions to their children's experiences of trauma.

"With news of traumatic events so prevalent in our society today, it is important for parents to be aware of how to cope to with their children's reactions in a caring and age-appropriate way," said Roy Marshall, president and CEO of the Child and Family Guidance Center. "At the Center, we are happy to offer this resource to families who want to be informed about caring for their children's emotional reactions to troubling news."

To receive the booklet, simply email a request to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . This booklet is not a replacement for professional mental health care. If you or your child are experiencing severe difficulty coping with a traumatic event, it is recommended that you contact a mental health care professional.

The Child and Family Guidance Center is a non-profit organization that was founded in 1962. For nearly 50 years, the Center has provided high-quality mental health care, supportive social services and linkages to needed community resources.

For more information, please visit the web site at .

School Safety Tips

• If you walk to school, walk in groups.

• Don't take shortcuts.

• Don't go places by yourself.

• If you see someone suspicious, try to locate a police officer or firefighter.

• If you're being followed, go into a store or restaurant and ask for help.

• Walk in areas well-lighted.

• Let your parents know where you are at all times.

Last Updated on Thursday, 10 January 2013 05:59