By Emily Rasmussen, The Capistrano Dispatch

Representatives of several South Orange County cities joined forces with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department (OCSD) and the Capistrano Unified School District (CUSD) to launch Secure OC Schools, a coalition to combat school gun violence.

In light of the shooting of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida that left 17 people dead on Feb. 14, Mission Viejo Mayor Ed Sachs hosted the announcement of the coalition in front of the OCSD Lake Forest Sub Station on the morning of Monday, Feb. 26. In addition to OCSD representatives, Sachs was joined by CUSD Trustee Judy Bullockus, Dana Point Mayor Pro Tem Joe Muller and representatives from a handful of other South Orange County cities.

“Today I’m calling for a commission to get together to talk about securing Orange County schools,” Sachs said. “We need to bring in all elements—police, fire, students, parents, school people, teachers, administrators—everyone needs to come together to come to a resolution.”

Sachs added that teachers need to be trained for situations like school shootings and that different forces such as police and school administrators need to come together find the “gaps” in every aspect of school safety. Sachs’ call to action was to create a commission within the next 30 days to lay out guidelines and inviting people to share experiences and ideas, via secureocschools.com.

“Every school shooting is a tragedy and we want to do everything we can before a tragedy occurs to be preventative and if necessary, be responsive,” OCSD Undersheriff Don Barnes said. “We cannot believe that we are immune as a community.”

Barnes explained that some of the ways OCSD has been preparing for events such as the one in Parkland, Florida, included that they have conducted three active-shooter drills, one at a community church, one at John Wayne airport and the last at a local high school, Barnes said. OCSD has 16 school resource officers and the School Mobile Assessment and Resource Team (SMART), which has two deputies, an investigator and a sergeant who solely responds to allegations or threats of violence to school campuses.

“Just in the last two years, 2015-16, (SMART) responded to 469 calls for service on campuses, they made 173 arrests seized more than 183 weapons that could be used much like we saw in Florida,” Barnes said.

SMART has also presented 175 active-shooter presentations within the past five years on prevention and response, Barnes added.

In regards to CUSD approaches to school safety, Bullockus noted that CUSD dedicated $3 million in 2015 towards school counselors—for every school from elementary to high school—for the “social and emotional well-being” of students.

“These counselors work individually and in groups to intervene with students who are struggling with grades, attendance, or show other indicators that we should show concern for,” Bullockus said.

Topics that counselors cover with students include respecting differences, emotional management, coping with peer pressure and bullying, she added. Bullockus also noted that all of the schools participate in safety drills regularly.

In an email to CUSD families last week, CUSD Superintendent Kirsten Vital noted specifics of safety drills:

  • Evacuation and fire drills are conducted once per month for elementary schools, four times a year for middle schools and twice per year for high schools.
  • ‘Drop, Cover and Hold’ drills are conducted once per quarter at elementary schools and once per semester at middle and high schools.
  • National Incident Management Systems (NIMS) drills are conducted once per year at all CUSD schools.
  • Lockdown drills are conducted twice per year at all CUSD schools, which include the “Deny Access, Evade and Engage” protocol that was created in collaboration with OCSD. This training includes a component titled “Evade” so that, when appropriate, teachers and students can move to a safe place out of danger and it includes a component titled “Engage” because, if necessary, we want students and staff to use any.

To learn more about the developing commission, visit secureocschools.com.

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