Pictured: Mammoth High School in solidarity with its Connecticut counterparts./
Campus walk through yields mixed results
Wednesday, Feb. 27. Morning. Mammoth Unified School District campuses are in session. Kids and teachers are in classrooms, and staff is in their respective offices and workspaces; it was a day not unlike any other day, a perfect one for a spot safety inspection.
At the behest of my publisher, this reporter paid random, unannounced visits to all three Mammoth campuses, in a non-scientific walk through that revealed some interesting findings as to the state of safety in our local schools. A disclaimer: this is not a “gotcha” story; however, in the wake of the school shootings in Sandy Hook, Conn., last December, the idea is to give the community a sense of what’s being done, what could be done and what might never be done when it comes to keeping kids safe at school.
In January, MUSD’s Board of Education took up the matter of school safety, and is currently working on a district plan. The Board has agendized the item again for its Thursday night meeting this week. All three campuses are working on their own individual approaches as well.
In an odd sort of way, my “reporting” took on some role-playing, as I cast myself as a potential school intruder. I tried to think in ways that someone who is bent on doing harm might view the schools. Armed with only a camera, however, the only “shooting” I would be doing, thankfully, was through a lens.
First off, walking time from any parking lot to any of the schools was no more than 30 seconds. Once there, the main entrance doors to all three were closed, though unlocked. Signs posted outside said check in of all visitors at the front office was required. I chose not to check in at any of them.
Mammoth Elementary School: Once inside, I spotted the front office to my right, and noticed that the cafeteria doors were open, in preparation for lunch. Walks down hallways revealed that all classrooms doors appeared to be secured. I didn’t try all of them, but random tries on door handles showed them to be locked. Within about 2 minutes, a fifth grade teacher patrolling the hallways stopped and asked if I had checked in and what I was doing.
Mammoth Middle School: Again, once inside, I skipped the front office, which was on my left, and wandered past the library, where the door was open, but the librarian was in the doorway having a conversation with a staff member. Whether or not my presence drew their attention, no contact was made. I continued down a hallway, and found all the doors closed, and random tries of door handles showed them to be locked. One student told me they have to knock to be allowed back inside the classroom.
Stopping by the office, again at random, I checked with the office staff, which informed me that the back door to the office is always locked now, as are the main entrance rear doors. Only the front entrance is accessible, though the office currently has a blind spot. A walled-off room prevents staff from having a clear view of who’s coming in via a big glass window that looks out on the front entrance walkway from that room.
That, staff said, is to be corrected by pulling down the wall and rearranging the room so that visitor check in can be more easily facilitated. Also planned is a buzz-in system, so that the front doors will also be locked, and only clearance by staff will get visitors admitted.
Mammoth High School: Once inside, I found the school pretty much wide open. No teachers passed me in the halls, but several students did, and none asked me who I was or what I was doing there. Several doors were closed, but many were wide open, with classes in progress. I must have spent at least five minutes or more just wandering various hallways and walking past classrooms, several of which would have made easy targets.
Ironically, on one wall, a sign read, “Support Sandy Hook School.”
Now is the time …
In January, President Obama released his administration’s multi-pronged approached to safety as a response to the Sandy Hook massacre. It was titled, “Now Is The Time.” An earnest effort, it contains several sensible ideas that would be helpful to schools, though, short of putting up barbed wire, installing metal detectors, issuing swipe cards, and having School Resource Officers patrolling the hallways armed with AR-15s, it’s debatable as to whether any future attacks might be stopped.
Outgoing Superintendent Rich Boccia and Mammoth Lakes Police Chief Dan Watson are not in favor of turning schools into armed encampments, and that is as it should be. Students are there to learn, and if we are going to turn our schools into militarized zones, that does nothing to foster education .
As Chief Watson pointed out, Sandy Hook had a safety plan, which it had practiced not long before the shootings, as well as its own buzz-in system, and still 27 people were killed.
Management plans and adding school safety officers are great parts of the president’s proposals, but school districts and municipalities nationwide are always fighting budget battles, and reality is that hard choices must be made, and some potentially good ideas will have be put aside until they can be paid for.
Reactions to mass shooting, whether Columbine, Virginia Tech, Aurora or Sandy Hook, always seem to make us say, “Now is the time.” One could argue that “now” is always the time. Schools must do all they can for safety’s sake, but at the end of the day, is there any practical way to make any school, shopping mall or theater completely safe?