Sadly, events in distant cities mean that our students and teachers have had to add another set of tools for school safety that we all hope they never have to use.
Preparations for a broad list of calamities—earthquake, fire, bomb threats, gunfire—are now a fact of every day life at schools and all grade levels. As if there aren’t already enough distractions in our local learning environments—clubs, sports, holidays, bullies, cell phones, social media, ICE raids, drugs, family and economic turmoil.
But it’s good to hear that local school administrators and law enforcement officials continue to take possible threats very seriously.
“We’ve been taking this serious for a long time and do everything we can possibly do to prepare for the unlikely event of a school shooting,” said Gilroy Supt. Debbie Flores. She has taken the additional step of opening up her school campuses to Gilroy police officers to carry out their own live-training drills when school is not in session.
“This is a tough topic, but we have to talk about it,” said Mike Elerick, who leads “school violence and active shooter” training sessions around the state, most recently in Gilroy this week. His classroom workshop discusses best practices, identifying behaviors, reporting procedures and security systems.
Elerick says the most important thing for schools is “to make sure they have a single point of contact for parents, students and staff—from janitors to teachers.”
At local high schools, that single point of contact could turn out to be lone security professional on campus, the “School Resource Officer”—a local police officer assigned to a school or group of schools, who salary is often paid or share by the school district.
The actions of one such resource officer came under a microscope after last month’s Florida school shooting.
In addition to being center stage in local school security efforts, the local resource officers are committed to building bridges between law enforcement and young people that extend beyond school hallways. They are a friendly, caring protective presence for students as well as a resource for teachers and administrators.
Hollister Police Officer Juan Guevara has been the resource officer for San Benito High School for more than two years. Guevara is one of three Hollister police officers (the other two are assigned to middle and elementary schools) working in partnership with San Benito schools to help ensure a safe school environment. Morgan Hill has one resource officer, while Gilroy employs two resource officers at each of its high schools who are also in charge of their respective feeder schools.
“The responsibility of the resource officer is to be on campus, assist the schools, evaluate any suspicious activity that may be going on, patrol the area and just show a strong presence that you are there,” Guevara told us this week. He has a badge and service weapon, but is not in uniform. He often chats casually with students, talking about sports, student government and other topics.
Officer Jeff Brandon, in his fourth year as the resource officer in Morgan Hill, said he’s built invaluable relationships with both staff and students. “A lot of students seek me out to discuss problems they may be having. They know they can report things to me and come to me if they have any personal issues that they don’t want to follow them later on in life,” Brandon said.
So there may be bright spots after all in the midst of all of this heightened security at local schools.