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State senator calls for California school safety improvements

December 17, 2012 12:00:00 AM PST
For state lawmakers, the shooting rampage in Connecticut has served as a wake-up call. Are California schools safe? One state senator checked recent records and didn't like what he found.

A school safety plan doesn't just cover shootings, it's also supposed to include coverages and responses for earthquakes, fires and other dangerous situations. About a third of L.A. Unified School District middle schools don't have one, and the statewide rate is worse.

Every July, schools are supposed to turn in their safety plan to the state: How they evacuate students, whether they have locked doors while classes are in session? Which people do they let in? Are security cameras in place? Are people trained to react?

State Senator Ted Lieu (D-Torrance) is upset that the last numbers he could find indicate that more than half (53 percent) of schools did not comply in 2009.

"And because we don't really keep a good track of this data, we don't know in the last two years whether the situation has gotten worse or gotten better," said Lieu.

In light of the Connecticut shooting, the state has asked all California schools to review their safety plans.

After the 1999 Columbine, Colo., school shooting, lawmakers allocated roughly $90 million per year for security improvements. But as the recession wore on and squeezed the California state budget, school finance consultants say leaders allowed flexibility in how that money is spent.

"That means it's unrestricted funding now. School districts can spend it on anything that they want to. It doesn't have to be spent any longer on school safety and violence prevention," said Gerry Shelton, a partner in Capitol Advisors, a K-12 education advocacy group.

Schools Superintendent Tom Torlakson says California schools are safe. There are lessons, though, to be learned from Connecticut, but we can't go to the extreme.

"We can't live in fear, and we can't turn our schools into fortresses with barbed wire and metal detectors," said Torlakson. "There'd be enormous costs to that and it would change the atmosphere of our schools. So we want to be safe and find that balance."

But state Senator Lieu thinks California schools should start with the basics of having a safety plan in place. He is re-introducing a bill that would withhold some funding from schools if they don't have one in place in case a shooting similar to Connecticut happened here.

"It is so tragic and I just want to make sure that in California, we take whatever steps we can to try and mitigate or prevent future tragedies," said Lieu.

Torlakson says a proposed school bond for 2014 will likely mandate that all new schools be built with safety measures in place, including limited access.


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