Santa Monica schools are taking strides to become safer in the aftermath of school-centered incidents on the national and local levels.

At the Thursday, September 20 SMMUSD board meeting, Superintendent Dr.Drati and several principals throughout the district discussed safety concerns and preventative measures to address them.

“Anytime something happens, like a school shooting, this sends a shockwave across school districts,” Drati said. “Unfortunately, these are times we have to look at schools and how secure they are.”

Drati alluded to national tragedies being a cause to rethink school security but mentioned the recent local suicide of a parent in front of John Adams Middle School in June as an event that spurred more discussions with staff, City, and parents.

“Had school been in session at the time, that person probably could have walked into campus without us detecting something happened until after the fact. That got us into conversations as to where we think we could improve.”

In the discussion that wasn’t on the board meeting agenda (prohibiting public discussion) were instances of strangers and potential threats stepping onto school campuses, most notably a recent incident in which an unidentified woman attempted to lure a child away from a school. Staff have also reported homeless individuals trying to use restrooms on campus.

This school site was Roosevelt Elementary, whose principal Lynda Holeva has taken safety measures to prevent another similar occurrence.

After crowdsourcing input from a private security company, SMPD and community parents, Holeva found immediate changes Roosevelt could make. The school reduced the number of gates in the school to better regulate adult access on campus, reducing the total number of enterable gates from six to three. Roosevelt also changed pick up and drop off procedure to have parents do so at two main gates.

Additionally, Holeva created a parent volunteer valet program and parent volunteer safety committee to discuss safety concerns.

“In the end, this is about the safety of our children,” Holeva said. “If we hold off on policy or don’t do anything at all, we will all be held accountable, morally, legally, and by our school and the larger community. That’s not a chance I’m willing to take.”

At McKinley Elementary, Principal Dr. Ashley Benjamin has taken similar measures.

There, parents stop at the gate when dropping off students. Yard supervisors wearing bright, orange vests and badges supervise students and make sure they get to class.

After school at McKinley, adults wait outside of school gates while first and second graders are walked to the exit gate by a teacher, with third through fifth graders walking on their own to meet a parent/guardian. After 10 minutes, the gate is locked and unattended kids are brought by a gate monitor to the office call parents.

Both schools (and others in the district changing and increasing security measures, too) have hailed the benefits of their changes. Both sites say their methods make identifying safe adults easier, as well as keeping exits, emergency exits and schoolyards organized and clear, keeping kids visible and easy to see.

Benjamin says her school has 60-70% of students in afterschool programs of some sort, making the drop off procedure a manageable one.

While school staff generally support the changes, some parents and guardians did not.  Benjamin noted she’s received negative feedback from parents who said they felt the implementation changes are eroding the community feel these areas had. 

“That’s not true,” said Benjamin. “We encourage parent involvement and have meetings, committees, workshops and training every week.” She listed the PTSA, ELAC and event committees as examples.

In the general public comments section of the board meeting — occurring after all discussion and major action items, with board members prohibited from engaging in direct conversation with the speaker — several parents were present to voice their concerns with the policy changes. Many echoed the complaints Benjamin received, with one parent saying he felt parents were made to feel criminalized and another saying she felt this policy could cause an emotional rift between her and her child.

Dr. Drati said he would be at Roosevelt Elementary on Wednesday, September 26 to discuss concerns with parents.

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