Campus incidents rekindle school security discussion
Campus incidents rekindle school security discussion
Vandals broke into a kindergarten classroom at Bay Farm School on February 13. Photo courtesy of the Alameda Police Department.
Parents and schools staffers are making a renewed push for better security at Alameda schools following a pair of on-campus incidents over the past few weeks.
The push comes after a February 13 break-in at Bay Farm School that left a kindergarten classroom in disarray and a February 23 incident at Edison Elementary in which a “confused and agitated” man who police said was on drugs allegedly grabbed an employee in the school’s office, tried to steal employees’ property and fought with police who came to arrest him.
As of Sunday, Kelandre Rejaun Dunn, 27, was being held at Santa Rita Jail on $210,000 bail on charges of false imprisonment, battery on a police officer and burglary.
“We need to do something to protect our employees, and to make them feel assured that we are not taking for granted what is happening at their sites,” Alameda Education Association president Audrey Hyman said at a school board meeting last week.
Superintendent Sean McPhetridge, who acknowledged the need to provide more security at Alameda’s schools at the same meeting, said Friday that he will be meeting with Alameda police next week to discuss what might be effective ways of securing schools. He said district officials also plan to meet with different school communities to see how, or if, they want Measure I bond money to fund security measures at their schools.
“How do we keep our staff and our students safe and secure? That’s a question each school community needs to weigh in on as we proceed with the bond,” McPhetridge said during an interview Friday.
Hyman said Edison staffers were “quite shaken” by the intrusion at the school, which prompted schools officials to lock children in classrooms for their safety. Some parents at the school, which is one of the district’s oldest, have long urged the district to do more to secure the campus.
The district recently installed a gate across the school’s main entrance, and families are likely to once again discuss whether to install a fence around the perimeter of the Edison campus – a long-running debate. Fencing and improved lighting are among the campus upgrades proposed in the district’s facilities master plan.
In the Bay Farm case, vandals broke a window and entered a kindergarten classroom, overturning tables, spray painting a word on the wall, discharging a fire extinguisher and destroying students’ work. The losses included one kindergarten student’s project commemorating his first 100 days of school – 100 marbles he collected, which the vandals scattered on school grounds.
A school custodian who responded to an alarm set off by the Bay Farm break-in told police he saw several youths running from the campus when he arrived. Police detained several youths they encountered in the school parking lot but later released them. No one has been arrested or cited as a result of the Bay Farm incident, and police said they don’t have any leads.
Vandals have hit the school several times in recent years, setting a fire and spraying graffiti on a school building. Police Lt. Jill Ottaviano said the department is working with Bay Farm’s private security force to better coordinate prevention of crimes on the school campus.
After the Sandy Hook school shootings in Connecticut, parents at Bay Farm created a safety task force that included parent volunteers who work in law enforcement. The conducted a security assessment at the school and purchased motion-sensor cameras that can send an alert if someone is detected on campus. But the cameras weren’t on when this most recent vandalism incident occurred, parent Jennifer Williams said.
Williams and others said the school’s playground is “a big black hole” shrouded from view, a place where youths go to hang out and drink.
“You’ve got a big black hole back there and kids drinking. I am concerned,” said Williams, who is co-president of the school’s PTA but said she was speaking to The Alamedan as an individual parent and not on the organization’s behalf.
Williams said the PTA will discuss the incident and refresh its efforts to refocus on school safety at its March meeting. In addition to turning the cameras back on, Williams, who said she’s glad district leaders are taking school security seriously, said she asked the district to install motion sensor lights that could scare off unwanted intruders.
McPhetridge said the district had previously installed lights on campus but that neighbors complained, so district staff covered them up. Still, he said new lighting options could be explored.
But the openness of the district’s campuses, designed and built before safety and security became major issues for schools, poses a challenge.
“At some point, the truth of the matter is, as I see it, that you have many points of ingress that you simply cannot control,” McPhetridge said.
After the 2012 Sandy Hook school shootings, The Alamedan explored efforts the district was making to secure its campuses and visited a trio of campuses to gauge whether basic safety precautions were being taken.
Separately, the district and the city paid to erect a fence around an open blacktop at Ruby Bridges Elementary School in 2013 after a student was sexually assaulted on campus.
McPhetridge said safety and security were the top priorities of school communities who engaged in the district’s facilities master planning process; in a community letter released Friday, he reiterated that security is a priority for the district and offered fresh details about the efforts that school staff, police and a parent made to protect each other and bring the incident to a quick close.
Now that the district has bond money to upgrade its schools, district officials will be meeting with families again to see what they’d like to do with it, he said.
Even if families and school staff were in agreement on what, if any, security measures should be taken – and they’re not – McPhetridge said it will take time to talk to families, gain state approval of construction plans and build safety improvements. But he’s optimistic that security concerns can be addressed.
“Every crisis is an opportunity,” he said.