It will be very emotional for the entire LAUSD community – parents, educators, and students – when classes resume January 7. Then, as now, our thoughts and prayers will be with the people of Newtown during this time of overwhelming grief and sadness.
Over the past few days, numerous LAUSD parents have inquired about school safety. Understandably, they seek reassurances that we are dedicated to the security of their children, and that we are mindful of any lessons that can be learned stemming from the Newtown tragedy. I would like to speak directly to all LAUSD families on this issue.
As many of you know, during the past five years the LAUSD experienced a devastating series of budget cuts, which resulted in the dismissal of thousands of valued employees. Yet throughout this period, both various superintendents and board members have made a commitment to maintain a school police force that can adequately patrol our campuses.
We currently deploy 200 officers in the field, including one stationed at each of our high schools throughout the school day. The current total force of 350 officers is close to the number we had before the massive budget cuts began in 2007. In addition, officers establish close relationships with school sites, and work with parents and administrators to report suspicious behavior and any possible threats of any kind.
Under the leadership of Chief Steve Zipperman, we’ve also strengthened our ties to all the law enforcement agencies that patrol areas covered by the LAUSD. We routinely share information, and seek to make best practices even better. Today’s press conference is another indication of how well we work as a team to protect students.
Indeed, the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) has been an amazing and dedicated partner in our effort to make students feel safe. The latest example is the LAPD’s commitment to redeploy patrols to our campuses during this period of heightened anxiety. I know I speak for Chief Zipperman as well in expressing our tremendous gratitude for this action.
School police and operations will also be conducting another thorough review of our policies and procedures regarding access to campuses. Right now, the vast majority of our schools can only be accessed by going through the main office. Play areas and classrooms are protected by locked gates and fences. While we feel our campuses are currently secure, we always open to suggestions for making them even more so.
In fact, this morning a contingent of three school police staff members departed for Newtown to express condolences in person to the school community and to determine if there is anything we can learn from what happened.
News reports have confirmed what most of us suspected when we first heard the news Friday: that the shooter was a deeply troubled individual. While no mental health system is fail-safe, at the LAUSD we have an extraordinary group of trained counselors who identify and work with a range of youth, including those who could potentially pose a threat to others.
When school resumes in January, counselors will be available to help students and staff cope with the aftereffects of the Newtown tragedy.
Over these past few days, and moving forward, the message that I’ve imparted to the LAUSD family can be summed up in three words: “remembrance, safety, and vigilance.” As we mourn the victims of the Newtown shooting, we also continue to work to make our campuses as safe as possible.