Most Viewed Stories
Yuba-Sutter schools beefing up security
Resource officer Al Ortega has only drawn his gun once during his 11 years working at Yuba City High School.
Ortega pulled his gun when arresting a parolee who was running from police just a few blocks away from the high school. Although not recent, the incident emphasized the need for security measures to keep students safe at local schools.
The tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in December prompted school districts across the country to review their security procedures.
Resource officers like Ortega are one option that Yuba-Sutter districts have chosen to beef up security, but there are also other alternatives.
High-tech digital cameras, contingency plans, and metal fences and gates are all used to keep threats out and kids safe, said Jonathan Barth, Yuba City Unified School District assistant superintendent of business.
The methods aren't new. For decades, schools have used a variety of safety measures.
But with a heightened awareness of school security, many Americans are expressing concerns about whether the precautions in place are enough to protect their kids.
Locally, schools reviewed safety procedures in the wake of Sandy Hook.
Contingency plans were double-checked, and parents were brought in to contribute ideas, said Jolie Carreon, coordinator of attendance and discipline at the Marysville Joint Unified School District.
Tom Pritchard, superintendent of the Live Oak Unified School District, said his district replaced door locks in several schools in the aftermath of Sandy Hook so that classrooms could be locked faster in an emergency.
Districts review emergency plans
Since Sandy Hook, Yuba-Sutter school districts have reviewed contingency policies, which outline procedures that staff must take in the event of an emergency.
The faculty takes action based on the type of danger, said Jonathan Barth, Yuba City Unified School District assistant superintendent of business.
During a fire, students would be taken out of their classes and guided to fences near the perimeter of the school. If the event of an armed threat, students would stay in their classrooms, and gates surrounding the school would be locked with a master key.
Whatever danger arises, schools typically use an intercom system to communicate with staff, while the districts use an automated message system that sends out alerts to hundreds of administrators, students and parents within minutes, officials said.
With the implementation of emergency preparedness plans, Yuba County Superintendent of Schools Scotia Sanchez said the schools are well-prepared.
"There's no such thing as over-prepared," she said, "but we are doing a good job of preparing the best we can for an emergency."
Digital camera update in the works
To improve security at several of its schools, Yuba City Unified School District is in the process of replacing dozens of analog cameras with more efficient digital cameras, said Jonathan Barth, district assistant superintendent of business.
New cameras are to be installed at Yuba City High School, River Valley High School, Albert Powell High School and Gray Avenue Middle School.
"We've been working on this prior to (the Sandy Hook shooting)," Barth said, "but it gave us a reason to move faster."
The Marysville Joint Unified School District is looking to update its school camera systems this summer as well, said Jolie Carreon, district coordinator of attendance and discipline. She said they are mostly used to deter vandalism or identify students getting in fights.
Resource officers make a difference
Al Ortega, resource officer at Yuba City High School, said one of the best ways to keep a school safe is through the use of campus resource and probation officers.
Such officers perform a variety of functions, from making arrests to helping students with schoolyard problems.
For resource officers, just showing up is a major part of the job, Ortega said.
"First and foremost it's the show of presence," he said of his duties.
Ortega, one of two resource officers hired by Yuba City Unified School District, provides security for the high school. For the most part, he doesn't see a lot of action. That's good, Ortega said, because it means his job is effective.
Funding for the two officers is shared by the school district and Yuba City police.
Ortega, like most resource officers, carries a .40-caliber Glock, an expandable baton, pepper spray and handcuffs. He also has a squad car at his disposal that is equipped with an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, a shotgun and a Taser.
His equipment serves mostly as a visual deterrent, he said.
Fences being built
New fences are being built to give campuses more control over access points, school officials said.
Yuba City Unified School District is installing metal fences at several locations, including Tierra Buena School.
"We don't want to make this look like a prison for kids," said Jonathan Barth, Yuba City Unified School District assistant superintendent of business. "But we don't want to make it look like a resort either."
Schools often set up fences to help control access on and off the campus, said Jolie Carreon, coordinator of attendance and discipline at the Marysville Joint Unified School District.
Mary Covillaud Elementary School is one example of a campus that has one way in and one way out.
"We are going to do whatever we can to keeps kids safe," she said.