Local News

Friday, Dec 14 2012 05:31 PM

Authorities revisit safety procedures in aftermath of school shooting

BY COURTENAY EDELHART Californian staff writer cedelhart@bakersfield.com

Local school officials say they prepare for all kinds of threats, manmade and otherwise, but are reviewing emergency response and parent notification plans in the wake of the horrific shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Twenty-eight people -- including 20 children -- died Friday when a shooter opened fire at the school in Connecticut.

Kern County has 47 school districts and their procedures vary, but for the most part officials at a several districts interviewed say the groundwork is already laid to try to prevent and, if necessary, respond to such an attack.

Students are told to report alarming comments, behavior or social media posts; are educated about how to cope with bullying; and regularly participate in training drills for any number of calamities, including earthquakes, fires, bomb threats and shootings.

"We have districtwide safe schools plans in place at each school," said Rosedale Union School District Superintendent John Mendiburu. "And we have an automated phone messenger system to send out calls to all the parents if we need to. We can track which of those calls are picked up, and if the call isn't answered, personnel will make follow-up calls."

It was unclear Friday precisely how many of the county's schools have that same ability.

Local schools routinely go on lockdown when there is criminal activity in the vicinity of a campus. During such times, no one is allowed to enter or leave until law enforcement gives the OK.

Last month, Lamont School District classes were initially delayed and ultimately canceled during an off-campus manhunt in which a suspect repeatedly shot at sheriff's deputies. The alleged shooter was later found dead in a shed in a yard where he had been hiding.

Also last month, more than 1,800 North High School students in Bakersfield were evacuated in the middle of lunch after a device officials feared was a pipe bomb was found in a bathroom.

The device turned out to be harmless.

In that case, the students had taken part in a practice emergency drill earlier in the week, so everyone knew what to do and quickly made it out of buildings and onto a football field.

"It was just fortuitous that it happened right on top of that (drill)," said Assistant Principal Steve Johnson. "In the real thing we actually got it better than we did in the drill. I couldn't have been more pleased."

Johnson said staff and faculty met afterward to go over everything and analyze strengths and weaknesses.

"There were some minor things we would have tweaked in terms of reuniting students with their parents, but the evacuation went exactly the way it needed to. My teachers and my security people functioned perfectly," he said.

Kevin Silberberg, superintendent of Standard Elementary School District in Oildale, said in light of the Connecticut shooting, he will review his district's safety plan.

The district has done a better job planning for external, neighborhood threats than for trouble at the schools themselves, he said.

"I called all my principals this morning and told them we need to plan better for when the intruder is on campus," Silberberg said. "We need a better signal to alert teachers and students to lock their doors and hide, if they need to. That's the most important thing we're looking at."

The Kern High School District, which has a police force of 22 officers, immediately made all its officers aware of the Connecticut shootings Friday morning, said Officer Lalo Celedon.

"We're concerned about copycats, so we always communicate news of anything like that," he said.

The Bakersfield Police Department and the Kern County Sheriff's Department didn't increase patrols around local schools Friday, but they were in touch with school police and prepared to respond in the event of an emergency, they said.

"We undergo training regularly for a variety of active shooter scenarios, and we go over talking points and develop a plan of action in response to these types of situations," said Bakersfield police Sgt. Uriel Pacheco.

Up until Friday, mass shootings at the nation's schools had been limited mostly to high school and college campuses. The fact that this latest catastrophe involved an elementary school made processing it all that much more difficult.

"Our hearts go out to all of them," Mendiburu said. "It's nothing you ever want to even have to possibly imagine."

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