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In-depth: School Safety Transparency

Campus crime is an unfortunate reality for Coachella Valley students heading back to school. State law requires districts to keep track of safety problems and their plans to solve them.

It's a topic that's front of mind for Bianca Acuña, as she helps get her daughter prepared to head back to school. 

Acuña said she's proud of how far her daughter has come since she was attacked last fall during lunch at Desert Ridge Academy in Indio. “She’s gotten honor roll three times. She’s gotten two medals," Acuña explained.

The incident was captured on cellphone video, which Acuña shared with us. "I called the school infuriated, because for one they didn’t notify me, and two it was my niece that let me know,” said Acuña.

Desert Sands Unified, along with the valley’s other two districts, have a protocol for handling incidents like this. 

"We work with them to see if we can come up with a resolution," according to Laura Fisher, Assistant Superintendent of Student Support Services for DSUSD.

Fisher plays a role in that process at Desert Sands Unified and explained that both the parents of the child that is being bullied and the aggressor get a report on the incident.

If a situation escalates to violence, schools and parents can get police involved, which is what Acuña did. Ultimately, Acuña ended up switching her daughter’s school and she said she was told the students who attacked her were suspended for a few days. 

However, she thinks more transparency about safety-related issues would help parents make better decisions about where to send them. 

State law requires every school to submit a comprehensive school safety plan each year. Included in that should be an assessment of the current status of school crime.

We requested all middle school plans from each district and found there are inconsistencies in how each district shares information with the state.

The state allows schools to choose what information they report in order to comply with the law.

At DSUSD, schools report their goals to create a safe campus based on data trends that are reviewed by a school safety planning committee. 

“They can pull from mental health reports, they can pull from suspension data, attendance data," according to Ryan Chandler, Acting Director of Security at DSUSD.

Laura Meusel with Palm Springs Unified said incidents of crime or violence are tracked as education code violations, and that can include suspensions, expulsions, and behavior referrals. "We report everything," said Meusel.

PSUSD schools include numbers for how many incidents of crime and what types are happening each school year. CVUSD and DSUSD schools do not because they’re not required to.

"There are a lot of different types of data that you can look at to get information that will show like the suspension rates and what not," according to Ryan Chandler, Acting Director of Security at DSUSD.

CVUSD leaders told us that they will start including numbers in their reporting. 

“We want to ensure that we’re providing all of the information and being transparent with what's happening and how we’re improving," according to Dr. Frances Esparza, Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services at CVUSD.

Esparza said CVUSD parents can expect the data to be available by the 2024-2025 school year. 

So how can you as a parent know what type of crime, if any, is happening at your child’s school?

The state has an online tool which you can find here, that provides some safety data to the public. Looking at the latest data available from the 2021-2022 school year, we found all 3 districts face similar challenges. 

Violence with injury, violence without injury, and drugs are the top three offenses. The data shows Desert Ridge Academy, where Bianca Acuña’s daughter went, had 50 incidents of violence without injury and 5 with the year before she was attacked. 

Based on trends CVUSD tracked in the previous school year, the district will make improvement to safety on all of its campuses by working toward centralizing its video doorbell system.

Gustavo Paiz, Director of Safety and Security for CVUSD, said the district is also working on reinforcing fencing at school sites.

This summer, the district developed a new protocol to communicate with parents if a dangerous object or weapon is brought to a campus. 

In a couple months, the district will roll out ParentSquare, an app that sends alerts either through text message or email.

"We recognize that there was a need in light of some incidents that occurred last year," according to Gustavo Paiz, Director of Safety and Security for CVUSD.

PSUSD is enhancing school camera systems, and DSUSD is also implementing some safety improvements.

"We’ve added 20 new campus security agents to all of our elementary schools," said Ryan Chandler, Acting Director of Security at DSUSD

As for Bianca Acuña, she’s hopeful heading into the new school year and said that she "would hope that they would be more involved with parents and letting us know when incidents like this occur immediately.”

Check Out Safety / Security Plans for Our Three Local School Districts:

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Jennifer Franco

Jennifer Franco is the weekend anchor/weekday reporter for KESQ News Channel 3


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