A report released this week by a civil grand jury in San Joaquin County said more could be done to keep schools in the county safe after examining 14 public schools and the county’s Office of Education.
A civil grand jury is a panel convened in each county around the state annually to investigate and report on local government operations.
According to the San Joaquin County jury’s report, a more unified approach to safety should be undertaken in local schools.
“Safety planning often consists of a patchwork of policies and procedures and many of the Comprehensive School Safety Plans (CSSPs) required by law are boilerplate documents that are rarely specific to school sites,” stated the report.
A CSSP is a safety plan required by state law for each school-site operating K-12 grades.
The jury found that although the San Joaquin County Office of Education (SJCOE) and all of the districts had their safety plans approved, only a few appeared to have been drafted to address issues that were unique to a specific school site.
For example, the jury found that few schools had undertaken any significant public, teacher, staff, student or parent input during the drafting or approval stages of the CSSP. The jury also found no meaningful collaboration with law enforcement while drafting the plan. CSSPs also contained a limited mention of the needs for students with disabilities in the case of emergencies.
Additionally, the report found that “many” districts failed to designate command staff or leads in case of emergencies in school settings.
“Law enforcement must be more involved in the process of development, implementation, and annual updates of the CSSP,” the report stated.
The involvement from safety officials would include safety training/drills, building relationships with students and staff, and helping to create a culture of safety.
Also, only a limited number of schools had added an assessment of crime at school sites and school-related functions.
While the civil grand jury recognized that school shootings or deaths have been occurring for years nationwide, they said that recent county events such as the death of two Stockton Unified School District students in the last two years had raised an important question: Were schools in their district taking appropriate measures to protect students and staff?
In 2022, Alycia Reynaga, 15, was fatally stabbed on the campus of Stagg High School in Stockton after a man entered the campus through an unattended security checkpoint.
Earlier this year, two Cesar Chavez High School students were attacked at Unity Park. Thai Khin, 17, died after being shot and another student was pistol-whipped.
The jury recommended addressing all of these issues by greater interaction between all stakeholders during the drafting of CSSPs, with an emphasis on how to handle emergencies, crime, violence and other factors specific to each site instead of a broad “boilerplate.” The jury also emphasized the importance of safety drills in all schools and making sure that support staff and substitute teachers are also informed of school safety protocols.
The jury also called for the SJCOE and school board to “develop, adopt and host” an annual School Safety Summit by Dec. 1 that includes at least one representative from each district.
Jurors called on parents and guardians to ask if school emergency guidelines have been tested and exercised, examine access to school campuses and to make sure accurate and timely information is shared.
Overall, the jury said despite school districts not being able to predict an emergency, proper training, drills, plans and creating a positive school culture are the best ways to help mitigate tragic outcomes.
The SJCOE said they had received the report from the grand jury and will thoroughly review the findings and recommendations to prepare a response.
“The Civil Grand Jury plays a crucial role in providing community oversight over local institutions, and we appreciate that it has chosen to review the important issue of school safety,” the SJCOE said in a statement.
“Ensuring school safety is a shared responsibility and one of the reasons we are committed to continue hosting the annual Safe Schools Summit, which brings together educators, school staff, and law enforcement to learn from each other, share best practices, and improve safety countywide.”
The next summit has been tentatively scheduled for Oct. 19 by the Office of Education.