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Parents voice concern about school safety

POSTED January 15, 2013 7:51 p.m.

Concern about the safety of school campuses continues to mount nationally and locally as parents hope to avoid shootings like the ones at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut and more recently,  Taft Union High School in Southern California.

Turlock resident Lori Hooper was so dissatisfied with the security at Medeiros Elementary that she pulled her 8-year-old daughter out of school.

"There's no fences. There's nobody monitoring. There's nobody watching," she said.  “An armed guard will make my child safer at school.  A fence will potentially stop an intruder from entering school grounds and stop any harm to our children.”

Hooper’s husband, who is a local law enforcement officer, decided to do some research of his own and visited the school on Dec. 18 to check the campus' safety.  He videotaped himself walking around campus and pointed out various safety issues such as short fencing, open gates with no locks and open classroom doors. 

“My husband, who is stepfather to my daughter, went as far as to approach one of the receptionists to check our daughter out of class,” said Hooper.  “The receptionist made him sign the book to check her out.  He was not asked for ID to verify who he was, and they did not check the enrollment card to see if he was allowed to check her out.  It makes me wonder if our kids are really safe in this district.”

The couple brought their safety concerns to the principal, and dissatisfied with her response, Hooper took her child out of school for the remainder of the week.

"If the government is requiring these kids to attend school, then they should be doing everything possible to protect them," said Hooper.

During the Jan. 8 Turlock Unified School District Board of Trustees meeting, one parent concerned with her child's safety while at school suggested implementing a closed campus policy with fencing around each school. 

In response, TUSD Superintendent Sonny DaMarto said he was working in conjunction with the local police and fire departments to protect the district’s students.

“The plan is to spend the next couple of days to look at school sites to see where we can improve safety,” he said.  “Next week I will meet with the police and fire department and get feedback from them to see where we could tightening up security.  We appreciate the parent’s recommendations as we will put them before the board.  The board will make a final decision on its expenditure funds.”

On the district's website is an outline of established procedures for the safety of students, parents, and employees that includes requiring visitors register with the office upon entering any school grounds, review of traffic patterns around campuses, and the fact that each school site has Comprehensive School Safety Plans and site Emergency Safety Plans.

When the Journal requested a copy of the comprehensive safety plans currently in place, the district refused to allow access.

 “It’s not in the best interest of our students and parents to release a copy of the schools' site safety plan at the moment,” said Assistant Superintendent Mike Trainor.  “During the last week we have visited eight school sites with the Turlock police and are working together to establish a new safety plan for this year.”

The Journal is awaiting response from a Freedom of Information Act request for the plans, as they were approved by the Board of Trustees in open session.

Hooper plans to attend TUSD’s next board meeting on Jan. 22 to express her concerns before the board.

“As parents we need to stand together and fight for our children’s safety,” she said.

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