Although the likelihood of an active shooter incident at a Plumas County school is low, so are schools fires — according to Sheriff Patrol Commander Todd Johns.
Yet, said Johns, we treat the possibility of school fires seriously enough that we do fire drills. The same thing should be done for the possibility of an active shooter.
The right strategy
Johns recommended to the school board at its May 10 meeting that all Plumas County schools be required to implement frequent mandatory on-site armed intruder drills.
Johns told the board that 755 children were killed in school fires in the U.S. from 1908-1958. Yet, he noted, not a single child has died in a school fire since 1958.
Johns pointed out that it was the deaths of children in school fires that led to fire drills in schools throughout the U.S.
Because of those drills and other improvements in our schools, not a single child has died in a school fire since the 1950s.
Johns emphasized, however, that just talking about what to do in case of an armed intruder is not enough. He said schools must physically go through a drill on campus and the drill must be mandatory for everyone: all teachers, staff and students.
Johns acknowledged that it would take three to four years for all eight schools in the district to have a chance to go through an armed intruder drill with involvement by county safety and medical staff. However, he said, it is important that the school district start the process.
Johns announced that the first active shooter drill will take place in Quincy this August without students and will build from there.
Sheltering in place?
Johns also announced that he is not a big fan of “sheltering in place” if someone on campus is shooting.
If possible, he said, it is usually best for everyone to evacuate as soon as possible. Johns said, “If people lock themselves in a room, it is likely, should an active shooter come upon them, that they will all be trapped and killed.”
In addition, said Franks, the walls in our schools are mostly made of wood and plaster board. A spray of bullets will go right through walls hitting people hiding inside rooms.
Johns recommended that parents talk to their children about where they will go after they have left a campus in the event someone is shooting at their school.
Johns emphasized that parents should go to that prearranged location to find their children in the event of an incident. Parents, or anyone else, should not come to a school when they hear about an armed incident at their children’s school.
Johns said the presence of parents, particularly armed parents, only worsens the situation, making the job of the police and medical responders that much more difficult.
In answer to a question from the board as to the responsibility of school officials to know where all of their students are in the event of an incident, Johns said, “The only students whose location you will know will be the dead ones.”
Lastly, Johns pointed out that schools might be the only place where children will learn what to do in the event that someone is shooting near them. This is information, he said, that a child will have with them for the rest of their lives.
Chester High school climate
Chester High School Principal Terry Hernandez reported to the board on the progress the school is making on improving school climate using past results from Healthy Kids surveys and innovative approaches.
Hernandez reported, “All our scores went up in 2016, some significantly. However there is still work to be done.”
As a whole, students feel safer, feel more part of their school and feel more supported and engaged than they felt in 2014. Hernandez said students generally feel that their teachers are kind, helpful and care about them.
The school asked each student to list three things they liked about their school and one thing they believed needed improvement. Students were then asked what could be done to improve the latter situation.
Hernandez said the school has worked especially hard during the 2016-2017 school year on school bullying, truancy and chronic sadness.
Bullying has dropped from nearly half of the students feeling bullied or harassed in 2014, to approximately a third reporting this in 2016.
Truancy has also gone down. When a student is truant more than one time, Hernandez said, parents get a phone call from the school. If the problem continues, the principal meets with the parents.
The percentage of students feeling chronically sad has dropped from nearly half in 2014 to a third in 2016. Teachers have been trained to understand the problem and how to intervene to find the causes of the sadness once they become aware of it. Hernandez noted that chronic sadness might be on the rise nationwide.
Hernandez is hoping to have Chester High School designated a bronze level school, the first of three levels awarded by the U.S. Department of Education for implementation of a program to create positive student behavior.
Hernandez also announced that, starting in fall, the new school motto for Chester High School will be “Dare to be Great!”
The District’s Education Foundation
The district met with PUSD’s education foundation to see if it made sense for the foundation to take ownership of the old Church Street school in Quincy.
The administration determined that the costs of utilities, $12,000 per year, and insurance would swamp the foundations current $400 in reserves.
In addition, donations to the foundation for upkeep of the building would be spent as the foundation board sees fit. A donation to PUSD for upkeep of the building, on the other hand, could be specified for a particular purpose. Tax donations to the school district are also tax deductible.
Modified district work schedule for summer
Employees of the district can opt for four 10-hour days this summer and district offices will be closed July 3.