Safety in schools is proving to be a divisive issue amongst the Santa Monica school district and parents.
At a Wednesday evening townhall-style meeting at Roosevelt elementary, Superintendent Dr. Ben Drati discussed the Santa Monica school district’s reasoning for increased safety measures at schools and engaged in a Q and A with concerned parents.
Some of these measures — with each school having a customized plan while working within an overarching framework — are upsetting parents, specifically a pickup and drop off procedure at certain school sites. Additionally, parents said they felt the changes happened with little to no interaction between the district and parents.
The school district says all schools within the district are in some aspect of this safety policy right now.
At some schools, parent drop-offs and pickups have been altered, with a more thorough vetting of parents to be allowed into school sites. The district says the goal is to prevent school shootings, violence, abductions or similar incidents.
“I recognize this is an emotional topic,” Drati said about school shootings and safety. “I’ve been in three school districts and this is a hot topic everywhere. Last year, it really picked up with student involvement and everything taking place … this topic consumes our minds at all times … but one issue hit home this summer, the suicide at JAMS.”
Drati said he was present during the suicide, giving him and staff more urgency to prevent a possible violent occurrence. He wondered aloud if that person got on campus with a gun during school hours, would staff have been able to do anything?
After discussing aspirational measures with Malibu and Santa Monica police, the district took a look at what could be fixed immediately. Pickups and drop-offs were an immediate candidate.
Roosevelt recently implemented new safety measures to deter unwanted visitors and increase awareness of the adults on campus during drop-off and pick up. These measures were taken after a woman attempted to lure a child off campus, as well as homeless walking into campus.
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. The school also changed its pickup and drop-off procedure to have parents do so at two main gates instead of allowing parents to come into the schools unchecked each morning.
Many parents railed against the changes, most saying not being allowed to walk their children into class and visit with teachers was destroying a sense of community as well as possibly harming their children emotionally.
Sean Milliken, a parent at Roosevelt, said the policy made him feel criminalized, making him feel as if parents are now excluded from their child’s learning environment.
Another parent did a deep dive into school shooting data, saying that no school shootings that have occurred would’ve been prevented by a closed campus. They said that while they understood the proposed policy change, it didn’t make sense for Roosevelt.
“If we know who’s on campus, that’s great, but here’s what we lose: our community … this is a public school and I feel like the public didn’t get a choice in this.”
A teacher at Roosevelt, who asked not to be named, took issue with the district’s claim in an email that 83% of teacher’s approved of the new policy.
“I’ve heard teachers for and against this,” the teacher said. “No one spends more time here than teachers. There’s so much gray area in this policy and teachers have wealth of knowledge of how this could be done … teachers have been engrossed with planning and teaching and we haven’t given voice to this yet.”
A parent that sided with the changes lambasted those who felt they were losing their community, saying those parents were “more concerned about social hour than for the safety of our kids.”
After many back and forths and in-betweens, the nearly three-hour meeting ended. Drati reiterated no final actions are being taken yet, that this policy and implementations thus far are to be considered a draft and staff will assimilate concerns and continue seeking out dialogue between the community, police, and staff to finalize a plan.
“We’re not going to solve everything tonight,” Drati said. “This is about collecting data and thinking about how we can address our needs, all of ours.”