School safety plan: what it is and its importance

Photo by Ana Perez. School Administrator Assistant, Diane Seiger (right) talks with an undercover LAPD officer (left) who began making regular visits DPMHS after the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting in Newtown, Conn.

Students come to school to learn and broaden their horizons. Questions like “Is my school prepared for an emergency?” don’t cross their minds often. Though it may not be obvious, there is a plan in place at Daniel Pearl Magnet High School (DPMHS).

In the wake of the Newtown, Conn. shooting, many people are wondering what schools are doing to improve security on campus. The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) does indeed have a plan.

“It seems like there are no cameras and that (the front entrance) isn’t guarded,” freshman Daniel Skye said.

This is where LAUSD’s plan comes in.

The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) is now visiting all the schools in the district every day, with an emphasis on elementary and middle schools. The district’s police officers have been visiting campuses, especially high schools before.

The distict’s police department has had officer patrolling high school campuses before the Dec. 14 Newtown shooting.

It’s hard to tell whether the increased patrols make a difference since DPMHS never had much trouble in the first place. But whether you see them or not, the officers are there.

“I feel like we have a good community here,” said junior Melia Person. “I feel like I’m safe.”

But students are not the only ones weighing in after Newtown.

“I’m much more aware of how open the front of our school is,” DPMHS Principal Deborah Smith said. “Because of this, we’re (the front office staff) locking the front door when we leave, where before we didn’t.”

In addition to the LAPD patrols and locking the front door to the school, all schools have a safety plan. Here at DPMHS it is known as “The Binder.” Its formal name is the School Safety Plan, but the large binder in which the plan is housed is more widely recognized.

Science teacher Stephen Schaffter is the man with the plan. Using the District’s template, he has created a school-specific set of emergency plans.

“I go onto the District’s site and find the form (for the Safety Plan),” Schaffter said. “Then I assign people to teams, with at least two people per team.”

The teams include things like Medical and Search and Rescue. And what about creating the rest of it?

“All I do is click a button. Really,” Schaffter said. “This is because the District already has everything written up for us.”

When Schaffter says everything, he means everything. There is a plan for mostly any scenario you can think of, from biohazards to a circus train crashing.

“There are three main courses of action (when responding to an emergency) and most everything in there is a variation of one of the three,” Schaffter said.

The three are lockdown, evacuation and modified lockdown. Lockdown is where everyone stays in their rooms, windows drawn, doors locked until the threat is cleared. Lockdowns can last for many hours and unfortunately not all teachers have the necessary supplies.

“We do have some supplies out in the containers (in the front of the school) and Ms. Kathy in the cafeteria always has extra food as well as buckets and lye to make portable toilets,” Smith said.

What exactly does it take to go into lockdown?

“Even if a person on campus makes one person feel uncomfortable, like if a student has a restraining order against them, we go into lockdown,” science teacher Jim Morrison said.

A gun on campus always results in a lockdown. Always.

An evacuation is when the school body goes out onto the front lawn. This happens in the event of an earthquake, fire, gas leak or other incident that compromises the safety of the actual school.

Modified lockdown is a bit more complex. School keeps on going (for the most part), but no one goes out into the courtyards. This is where the interconnected rooms come in. If they weren’t connected, school could not go about its business.

Things that cause a modified lockdown include safety violations at a neighboring school or in the community.

Another question being asked is “Did the Safety Plan change in the wake of Newtown?”

The answer is no. The plan only changes if the district advises it and Smith said that the district hasn’t given word of any change.

Students might be wondering if they need to know the details of the Safety Plan. They don’t. All they need to know is that there is a plan in place; if an emergency arises, all they need to do is follow teachers’ instructions.

“There’s no way to know what’s going to happen,” Schaffter said. “We can only be ready and hope for the best.”