The horrific school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School left our nation stunned and in mourning. That tragedy marked the eighth gun-related incident on a school campus this year that has resulted in injury or death. Now, another tragic school shooting at Great Mills High School in Maryland marks the ninth incident. I know that we are all deeply saddened that we must endure continued senseless acts of violence. Our thoughts and prayers of comfort and healing extend to the South Florida and Southern Maryland communities, especially the victims, their families, and educators at the schools.
Sadly, the threat of violence and unrest continues at many schools throughout the nation, here in Monterey County and our own Pacific Grove. As you know, in the days approaching the National Student Walkout day Pacific Grove High, and a number of schools in Salinas had to deal with threats to student and school safety that were written on bathroom walls. These anonymous threats created a tremendous disturbance to our educational environment, and truly shook the foundation of our peaceful district. Even though we conducted a very thorough investigation in collaboration with law enforcement (who were superb in their efforts and attention), we never discovered the culprit. Through a tremendous showing of support from students, parents, staff and other community members, we still conducted a safe and successful school day on Wednesday, March 14, 2018. The lessons that we learned will help us improve our awareness, collaborative efforts with outside agencies, communication with all stakeholders, and site safety measures and practices.
Our entire staff and School Board want to assure you that the safety and security of students and staff while they are on campuses continues to be a top priority. Our Director of Student Safety, Barbara Martinez, coordinates efforts to ensure that each PG school site has a specific and detailed safety plan that is also reviewed by Monterey County Office of Education experts and updated each year. Monthly safety drills and protocols are part of those plans. In turn, our site administrators work with staff and students to regularly practice those protocols and refine their efforts as required. Additionally, we are very fortunate to have a School Resource Officer who is dedicated to maximizing our safety plans, advising our schools on best practices, building positive relationships with our students and their families and intercedes on sites whenever necessary. Indeed, our working relationship with the PG Police Department and Chief Amy Christey is as strong as it has ever been.
Beginning in 2015, our district invested time and resources to raise the bar in school safety by engaging administrators, teachers, and school site staff in training in The Big Five, School Emergency Guidelines. These protocols empower students and staff to make the decisions necessary to protect themselves, whereby increasing their chances of survival in the event of an immediate threat. Changing the practices of traditional school lockdown measures, where once students sat quietly in a corner, now our staff and students are learning how to barricade doors, and if possible, escape the building safely. You can familiarize yourself with these principles by visiting, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eydFlxX-1dQ I encourage all of our families to discuss, together at home, your school safety plan and these important safeguards which can be found online by visiting www.pgusd.org under the tab labeled School Safety. (cont. page 3)
While it may be difficult to digest the effects of this horrible tragedy and the current trend of safety threats, psychology experts encourage that we create a sense of safety for our students and staff by returning to normal, predictable routines as soon as possible, and listening to student or staff concerns and feelings. We encourage you and your children to report any suspicious activity, “If you see something, say something.” We will remain vigilant in keeping students and staff safe, and ask that you partner with us to help educate your child and report any suspicious activity to your child’s school administrator, teacher or School Resource Police Officer. Another recommendation is to limit student use of media to lower stress and maintain balance and perspective.
We are planning both site level parent safety awareness meetings to discuss the safety measures in place at each site, and to help provide Q & A. Likewise, we are collaborating with our neighboring peninsula school districts to host a larger community safety forum in Monterey sometime in mid-April. Presenters will include school officials, law enforcement, community agencies and legislative representatives. More detailed information will be coming soon.
Our priority is to ensure all students have access to the highest quality education in the safest environment. We hope that learning more about our safety protocols and staff trainings will give you peace of mind knowing that we consistently practice, review and refine our safe school plans to ensure the safest schools for your children.
Dr. Ralph G. Porras, Superintendent