It's no surprise that the question on nearly every teacher's and parent's mind after hearing the news of the Newtown school shooting on Friday was, "what if this happened here?"
Redwood City was no exception. After receiving Redwood City School District (RCSD) Superintendent Jan Christensen's letter Friday about how, in the wake of the tragedy, the district was reviewing its safety and security measures, members of the Redwood City Teachers Association (RCTA) began exchanging e-mails regarding what concerned them most.
The one security feature most mentioned by local teachers was classroom doors that lock from the inside.
Some Redwood City teachers said they are fearful about the fact that, should a shooter ever enter a local school, their classroom doors must be locked from the outside - therefore, to lock the door, a teacher must walk out into the hallway and be exposed, out in the open, in order to lock the door and try and prevent a shooter from getting into the classroom.
RCTA President William Crow wrote an e-mail to Superintendent Christensen stating this concern.
"I think that the first priority of the district [should be] to install locks on the doors of all classrooms in the district, which can be locked from the INSIDE," he wrote. "This problem was graphically illustrated [Friday] by a teacher from Connecticut, at the site of the shootings, who had to go outside of her classroom to lock the door, putting herself and all students inside at risk."
Another teacher from Selby Lane wrote an e-mail to all members of the RCTA pleading for curtains for all classrooms that would better allow them to hide from a shooter or other such attack.
"I'm at Selby Lane and there are a few classes that are exposed by open window viewing. We can't hide anywhere when there is a lock-down," the teacher wrote. "Other rooms have new shades or old curtains. I have none, as well as other rooms. We have work orders, but that was the beginning of the year. It should be a priority as well."
Bret Baird, vice-president of the RCTA, recalls what was probably the scariest incident in history at a Redwood City school - when, back in the 90s, Kennedy Middle School received a bomb threat and the school went on lock-down for around three hours.
Baird said, since then, the district has done a great job of getting down a "routine" with monthly safety drills, evacuations, lock-down procedures and the like, but he still worries that schools make easy targets.
"When domestic terrorism like this happens, people seem to go for the easiest target," he said, explaining how, the way most schools are laid out, large numbers of people are gathered all in one place like a classroom or office, where there's only one way out and not many places to hide.
Baird said he feels RCSD does a good job of keeping an eye out for strangers on campuses, screening visitors through the office and securing campuses by keeping all gates locked and so forth - but, he said he agrees with the teachers that inside-locking doors and more curtains are needed and could help take safety measures even further.
Naomi Hunter, RCSD's director of communications, said the Superintendent's Cabinet is organizing meetings to address the district's current safety plans and measures and see if anything additional is needed. Hunter said the first such meeting took place Monday morning.
"One of the issues discussed was door locks," Hunter said. "Teachers already have the ability to keep their doors locked at all times by locking them with a key at the beginning of the day, and many teachers do keep their doors locked throughout the day."
"We do not currently have 'Columbine' locks that can be locked from the inside," she continued, "however, we will be investigating the cost and feasibility of installing locks such as these in the coming days, along with many other security and safety issues."
Hunter said the district will also be consulting with local law enforcement about its security plans and measures.
"We expect more guidance and information from law enforcement, and state and local government, as we begin a national dialogue about how to keep our children safe," she said.
The San Mateo County Sheriff's Office sent out a statement Tuesday to that effect as well.
"Sheriff’s Office school resource officers are, and have been, in constant contact with school administrators and teachers regarding the most up-to-date protocols and responses to school shooting situations," said Det. Rebecca Rosenblatt.
Rosenblatt said that, during the monthly lock-down drills area schools routinely conduct, students are expected to react as they would in an active shooter situation.
"School resource officers from the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office then accompany school principals around campus in order to make sure every student and teacher is in compliance," Rosenblatt explained.
Following Friday's frightening incident, Rosenblatt further said that "patrol deputies made themselves a highly visible presence on school grounds to give parents, students and staff an extra sense of security, and school resource officers reached out to their assigned schools and offered extra assistance to school administrators in whatever way they felt they may need."
Naomi Hunter said details of the district's current safety plans to respond to an emergency such as a school shooting are kept secret, so that no one could ever use them against the schools in such an incident.
She did say, though, "Safety is our top priority at all times, and we regularly evaluate security and safety procedures. Every school in the district has a safety plan that is developed by parents, teachers and staff at the schools each year."
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