News Channel 3 is looking at the safety of students on campus and seeing some security changes underway. This follows several instances of end-of-the-school-year violence most notably in Uvalde Texas.
As parents get ready to send their kids to classrooms around the Coachella Valley the requested details, dug through documents, and went one-on-one with heads of security to find out just what our local school districts are doing to boost security.
The violent shooting attack at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde Texas raised school security concerns everywhere. Two and a half months later, the I-Team discovered that local schools and police are taking action to tighten up their campus safety plans.
Local school districts are training for school shooting scenarios but also focusing on averting them in the first place.
"We spend a lot of thought on the response, but the response means it's already happened. If we can get ahead of it, that's where we truly want to be."Levaughn Smart, PSUSD Security Director
Palm Springs Unified School District Security Director Levaughn Smart told I-Team investigator Jeff Stahl, “We spend a lot of thought on the response, but the response means it’s already happened.” Smart continued, “If we can get ahead of it, that’s where we truly want to be.”
Smart says improving campus safety has been a multi-pronged approach this summer which involved people, procedures, and equipment in the form of staff training, threat and security assessments, and better access control to school grounds.
Smart has been heading up Palm Springs Unified School District training sessions for teachers and other staffers districtwide this summer. The district’s school safety initiative is expected to continue into the fall.
“The training is also to build situational awareness because everybody has to take onus in the safety of the school,” Smart said adding the district has been improving its digital and behavioral threat assessment capabilities with Instagram and other social media. They are major sources of threats to campus safety.
Smart says they can determine who’s making threats online and quickly respond, “Find out exactly who that person is because it could be ‘Tim101,’” Smart said. “And we have to figure those things out. Then we can share it with the Police department if we need to move that way,” Smart added.
Palm Springs Unified School District Superintendent Mike Swize, Ed.D. told the school board in June, “We’ve immediately instituted some new things for us here in the district.” That includes updating the district’s active shooter training. Our cameras went inside a July training with Palm Springs Police Department.
Access is another concern. Jeff Stahl found several open gates at Palm Springs Unified schools. Jeff found a rock that had been used to prop open a side door to one campus.
Talking with Smart, Jeff said, “I’ve talked to some staffers who say it’s too easy to get onto some of the campuses around the district.” Smart says parents may notice more locked doors on campus this fall– after his team reviewed this concern.
“And we’re not saying, ‘You can’t come in,’” Smart said. “We’re just saying, ‘Hey, your children are here and we want to protect your children. We just want to make sure that the business you have here today is school business,’”
Jeff asked Smart if students would be safer on campus this year. Smart said, “Yes. Yes because Mom and Dad send them to us with 10 fingers and 10 toes, upright and breathing. And it’s our job to get them home that same way.”
WATCH MORE OF OUR I-TEAM INTERVIEW WITH PSUSD SECURITY DIRECTOR LEVAUGHN SMART
At the Coachella Valley Unified School District, a new Local Control and Accountability Plan LCAP study revealed in June said students felt less safe on campus this past year. A positive grade of 68% dropped 18 points to just 50% between the spring of 2021 and 2022.
The LCAP is a three-year plan that describes the goals, actions, services, and expenditures to support positive student outcomes that address state and local priorities.
The District held walk-throughs on every campus and pinpointed the need for more fencing. It’s now going in at Peter Pendleton Elementary and other campuses, part of a new control-access system.
Coachella Valley Unified School District spokeswoman Lissette Santiago showed off a prototype unit for the district at Palm View Elementary School. She says new intercoms with video cameras are now in operation there outside locked doors. They allow workers inside the ability to prevent people from entering the campus until they’ve been cleared. All district campuses are set to get the new access control systems.
Santiago says CVUSD also now has communication radios allowing the district office to be in contact with police, and other first responders. The radios are a new addition to district security added this summer. Santiago said, “We plan to have additional radios at the school sites as well.”
In addition to walk-throughs and new equipment, a third major focus at CVUSD is ALICE, also known as Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, and Evacuate. ALICE training sessions were conducted over the summer break with staff to teach the principles of defense on campus. “We were provided training on how to be able to safely protect ourselves and everyone in the classroom,” Santiago said. The training sessions were said to be overdue, due to the pandemic.
Santiago says additional police patrols requested at the end of last year are not being asked to continue into the new school year but can be called upon if needed. “They’re not there full time,” Santiago said, “but they’re always patrolling our sites as a preventative measure.”
WATCH MORE OF OUR I-TEAM INTERVIEW WITH CVUSD SPOKESWOMAN LISSETTE SANTIAGO
At the Desert Sands Unified School District principals and top administrators met in June to hash out what’s working when it comes to secure campuses and what can be improved.
The district says current protocols are working, but additional training and drills are underway, and planned upgrades and expansions to the district’s surveillance system.
“These protocols (lockdown, lockout, evacuation, and shelter-in-place) have been effective in providing strategies for students and staff on our campuses when a response is needed,” said Mary Perry, DSUSD Spokeswoman in a statement responding to our I-Team request for information. Campus safety drills are also planned and will be more realistic.
Jeff Stahl sat down with the Desert Sands Director of Safety and Security Ed Nacua who said, “Not only are we going to do the same drills but we’re going to increase the effectiveness of the drills and make them more meaningful.”
“There will be 50 campus security agents and eight school resource officers throughout its campuses again this coming school year,” Nacua added saying improvements can be made when it comes to district technology.
“We have a good camera system,” Nacua said, “but we’re going to look to improve that by adding some artificial intelligence that can help us alert us like when an intruder comes on campus and do some other cool things.”
"If you see something, say something."Ed Nacua, DSUSD Security Director
Desert Sands Unified School District students and parents are being urged to report anything they see they might feel is suspicious, or just not right. Nacua said, “Use that PSST link. We monitor it 24-7-- 365 days a year. Even after hours, we find students who are at risk, other students who say, ‘Hey on social media this student said this.’” Nacua added, “If you see something– say something.”
You can find that PSST World link on every school website in the Desert Sands Unified School District.
District spokeswoman Mary Perry provided information in response to our I-Team request for actions undertaken by each Coachella Valley school district to focus on student and campus safety. Perry also stated in an email message, "Further details on security response and equipment are not shared with the public in our continued effort to keep our students and staff safe. Revealing details could put our students and staff at jeopardy during an emergency." Other districts echoed Perry's remarks.
WATCH MORE OF OUR I-TEAM INTERVIEW WITH DSUSD SECURITY DIRECTOR ED NACUA
All three local school districts have invested in the Raptor Technologies school security program. It's designed to approve visitors by checking their driver's license before they go onto campus, manage volunteers, and allow for a better response if there’s an emergency. Raptor allows workers using it to access an emergency panic button and silent alarm on every screen, according to its website.
“It runs your name against the national sex offender database," said Smart. Santiago said, “All of our visitors, all of our volunteers, even parents coming to their student’s school site– we will be screening everyone.” The system is just one of many layers of security to keep campuses and your kids safer at school.
The districts are also hiring additional Mental Health Therapists, each district recognizing students have suffered emotionally and mentally during the pandemic lockdowns. Palm Springs Unified is hiring 5 new therapists. Desert Sands is hiring additional mental health professionals.
CVUSD is budgeting $1.5 million for mental health services in the coming school year in wellness and social and emotional school counselors– two at each school.
A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study shows a 31% jump in emergency department visits for suspected suicide attempts among adolescents in 2020, compared to 2019. Emergency department visits were 51% higher for girls aged 12 to 17 in 2020 than during the same period a year earlier. The pandemic-related decline in child and adolescent mental health has become a national emergency, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the Children’s Hospital Association.