Unprecedented Coordination on School Safety

  • 10/30/2022 2:20:00 PM

By Dr. César Morales, Ventura County Superintendent of Schools

In October, a shooting at a St. Louis high school left a student and a teacher dead and sent multiple other victims to the hospital. Beyond the horror of the shooting itself, one of the most disturbing things about this incident is how little attention it received. The sad and frightening reality is that school shootings have become so commonplace that they sometimes struggle to dominate the national conversation.

Here in Ventura County, school safety is an issue that’s been top of mind for local educators for years. And now, there is an unprecedented effort underway to build on existing measures to maximize safety in our schools. This endeavor involves the participation of all 20 Ventura County school districts, all local charter schools that have in-person classes, and nearly every local law enforcement agency. 

It began in September in Camarillo with the first in a series of six seminars led by Strategos International, a nationally known school safety consulting agency. These workshops will give school leaders actionable steps that can be implemented at their districts and in their classrooms. The first session focused on helping schools ensure they have the proper policies and procedures in place that will allow them to identify threats and respond effectively in the event of a crisis. The second session in October went in-depth on ways to improve physical site security by controlling who has access to campuses, upgrading locks, and securing classrooms during an emergency. 

The next two sessions will cover threat assessment, the process of identifying red flags in student behavior, and intervening before situations get out of control. The US Secret Service’s National Threat Assessment Center, which has conducted extensive research on people who commit acts of school violence, will share key findings and recommendations. This is a critical step since violent incidents at schools are often committed by students who have given some sort of clue about their intentions. Future sessions will cover ways to optimize coordination between schools and local law enforcement agencies and how to respond during an active assailant situation. 

All of this work is being undertaken with extreme sensitivity. We are very aware of the need to teach students about safety without creating unnecessary anxiety and fear. And while some have called for the “hardening” of school sites, no one wants our campuses to look and feel like prisons. Plus, the facts show that most school violence is perpetrated by people who already have a legitimate right to be on campus. The new procedures being implemented at our schools are based on years of data about what’s actually effective, not just hunches about what might work.

The safety series is being presented jointly by a team from my office at the Ventura County Office of Education and the Ventura County Schools Self-Funding Authority, a local agency that provides insurance and risk management services to school districts. I want to thank the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office, the District Attorney’s Office, the California Highway Patrol, and all of the participating local police departments for joining us in this effort. We are also very appreciative of Assemblymember Jacqui Irwin who is working to keep school safety a top priority at the state level.

It’s been truly gratifying to be in a room filled with education leaders and law enforcement officials working together to ensure that students and staff are safe at school. We should all be proud that Ventura County is one of the only counties in the nation to have achieved this level of coordination and cooperation on this critical issue.

This column was published in the Ventura County Star on Sunday, October 30, 2022