Education

Do students in the Sacramento area have active shooter drills? Answers to your questions after Parkland

Families across the country remain anxious after 17 students and staff members were shot dead two weeks ago at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla..

In the Sacramento region, school officials have been on high alert for shooting threats and responded to several last week that were eventually deemed not to be credible.

The subsequent debate about school safety and gun control has led to questions about how local campuses prepare for active shooter situations like the one in Florida.

Here are some answers from our reporting.

Do students and teachers in the Sacramento region take part in active shooter drills?

Officials at large school districts say they have annual training that includes lockdown drills, though not all involve students.

Quick action by teachers and staff at Rancho Tehama Elementary School last year protected students after a gunman who killed five people reached the campus and shot through classroom windows – but never got inside. Though two students were shot and injured, an immediate lockdown likely saved lives that day. Staff and students had gone through regular training.

The region's three largest unified school districts – Elk Grove, Sacramento City and San Juan – have regular safety drills for students and staff. The drills generally start with an intercom announcement, followed by instructions to draw the blinds, lock doors and windows and to stay quiet.

Elk Grove Unified has lockdown and evacuation safety drills monthly for elementary school students, quarterly for middle school and twice a year for high schools. Sacramento City Unified schools hold lock-down drills twice a year at all schools.

Other school districts have active shooter training, but don't include students. The Davis Joint Unified School District held active shooter training with the Davis Police Department in August at one of its junior high schools. Administrators observed and asked questions to understand what the district could do to improve, said district spokeswoman Maria Clayton.

Ronald Stephens, executive director of the National School Safety Center, said students, staff and first responders should take part in drills to prepare for a shooting crisis. He said schools should be certain their school safety plan – required by California law – is in place and up to date.

First responders should be familiar with the plan, which spells out emergency plans, exits and entrances, plus the role of specific staff members. They should also visit campuses to become familiar with layouts.

Can teachers carry guns in school?

California state law prohibits anyone who is not a police officer, security guard or member of the military from bringing a gun onto a school campus.

School employees with a concealed weapons permit and permission from a district superintendent had been allowed to carry a weapon on school grounds since 2015, when the Gun Free School Zones Act was revised. That changed on Jan. 1 after Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation preventing districts from allowing non-security employees to carry guns on campus.

Folsom Cordova Unified was the only large district in the Sacramento region that allowed people with concealed weapons permits to be armed, along with a handful of districts around California that included Kingsburg Joint Union High School District in Fresno County. The new law provides exemptions only for shooting sports, certified hunter education or other activities sanctioned by a school district or university.

Law enforcement, security guards, military personnel and armored vehicle guards remain exempt from the ban on guns. The bill was backed by the state’s two major teachers unions, the California State PTA and gun control advocates. Opponents included the National Rifle Association and other gun rights organizations.

The Gun Free School Zones Act, originally passed in 1995, made it a crime for a firearm to be brought within 1,000 feet of a public or private K-12 campus.

Are there other ways in which districts are keeping students safe?

Officials at San Juan Unified, a district serving 46,000 students, have been adding and reconfiguring fences to limit access to its campuses. The focus is on limiting entry points and making them easier to monitor and lock down if needed. Many of the suburban district's campuses were built in the 1950s and 1960s, with multiple access points, district spokesman Trent Allen said previously.

Elk Grove Unified installed metal fences at least 6 feet in height with locked gates around each of its schools after Adam Lanza killed 20 children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in 2012. When school begins, the gates are locked and visitors must enter through the front office, where they are required to sign in.

In contrast, Davis Joint Unified doesn't fence in its schools, which often share playgrounds with city parks, Clayton said. The district has strict check-in rules for visitors that include showing identification and having names checked against a law enforcement database in order to be on campus, she said. All doors on campus lock on the inside and all windows have blinds to thwart an active shooter.

Are districts considering additional changes after the Florida shootings?

School districts throughout the region report that they are constantly reviewing their school safety plans, which must be submitted to the state annually by March 1. School safety officials usually hold meetings after mass school shootings elsewhere to determine if they can learn anything from the incidents to make their schools safer.

"In the wake of the Florida shootings we are discussing how the fire alarm was used and what we might be able to do differently in that regard," Allen said.

What can parents do to make their children safer?

Parents can visit schools to determine if access is limited to visitors, Stephens said. They should check to see if visitors have to sign in and if classrooms are locked, Stephens said. They should ask if school staff is appropriately trained and if first responders have visited the school site.

"This is really a good opportunity for some dialogue to up the game," he said.

Allen of San Juan Unified also recommends that parents, students and the community report suspicious activity, comments or social media posts to school or law enforcement officials.

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