The Madera Unified School District is in the process of upgrading its school safety program at all of our comprehensive high schools. The MUSD students who were recently surveyed, clearly identified that school safety is their primary concern.
Developing positive relationships with staff, teachers, and students is indeed part of the solution, but we also know we must address some of the salient components of school safety. To that end, we have identified many ways to promote programs that create a positive environment with both physical or mechanical components, such as the deployment of cameras in both comprehensive high school sites, and classroom door fast-locking technologies that effortlessly secure doors from inside the classrooms, such as the “Lock Blok” for a swift implementation of a total lock-down. Teachers and MUSD staff are also equipped with a smartphone app called Titan, which is a comprehensive emergency alert system: it can be activated for medical, fire, chemical spill, or active shooter emergency situations. The application facilitates instant communications from anywhere with cellular signal or Wi‑Fi connection. The Madera Police Department is deeply involved in the deployment of the customization of Titan app to address MUSD’s specific needs, and the software can identify anyone with the app, allow the users to send a video feed, or communicate with anyone on staff and/or with the Madera PD.
MUSD will have a dedicated school staff for monitoring the video feeds, on-site in the dispatch office, and the capability to share those feeds with the Madera Police Department, should the need arise. We also have Madera Police Department motorcycle officers operating out of substations located at each comprehensive high school campus who work in conjunction with our existing sworn MPD school resource officers on those campuses. The resource officers are in charge of establishing solid relationships with the students. Other law enforcement efforts include strategic threat assessments, that involve SWAT, Madera PD, and MUSD safety related staff resources. Those threat assessments, in addition to other safety resources, will also be deployed when the school year starts in August 2018, but specifics will not be shared with the public for obvious security reasons.
Addressing bullying is also a component of our school safety strategy and, to that end, the district has created the positions of Safe School Ambassadors, who have been deployed at all MUSD comprehensive high schools and all three middle schools. Volunteer students are identified as having some authority and/or social influence on their campus. They are enrolled and trained to monitor the campus culture and to spot problems; they also learn intervention skills, so they can effectively defuse potentially dangerous situations. Because these students interact with kids all the time, they can see things and understand student interactions which adults cannot. If, at any time, the ambassador students feel ill-equipped to intervene, they can easily involve trained adult safety officers to take over when needed.
The Madera Unified School District also has put in place staff positions for Student Advocates, located in the district’s middle and high schools, dedicated for at-risk students. Their role is to monitor, engage, and help foster engagement with students (migrant students, and other at-risk students, including children with academic problems, emotional problems, or challenging home situations) who need extra help to succeed at school, academically and socially.
Although not specifically called out in the school district’s safety protocol, sexual assaults are also addressed through the training of all 30 safety officers, all of whom are MUSD employees, who operate throughout the school district, including elementary school sites. Sexual assault is specifically addressed in health courses, available in 7th and 8th grades. The safety officers are also trained to recognize, address, de-escalate situations, and to spot human trafficking and other sexual exploitation behaviors, as well as identify drug and alcohol abuse.
Another aspect of safety involves academic progress monitoring, which requires a monthly meeting of academic counselors. The meetings are required to discuss student success, or lack thereof, discuss individual situations, and decide on individual options to determine the most adequate path for the students; sometime, an alternative educational placement team meeting is required to decide on the best path forward, including sending the at-risk student to alternative schools, including Mountain Vista, Furman Continuing Education, or to Ripperdan, the newest alternative education school in the district that features significantly smaller class sizes.
Gang monitoring is also an important component of the overall school safety concerns, with special attention to monitoring the gang recruitment that may be taking place on campus. Lawrence Fernandez, MUSD’s gang specialist for the past twenty years, has spearheaded a program specifically targeting 6th graders, which is a very vulnerable age for gang recruitment. His work has dramatically reduced gang participation in Madera and includes training safety officers to spot any gang related activities on campus. Drug and Alcohol counseling is also available and is mandatory for students who are suspended for use of alcohol or drugs.
Finally, active shooter training drills have been carried out through all the school campuses, and will continue to take place, throughout the school district, to prepare staff and students to amplify their response, implement the emergency protocol, minimize threat exposure, and alert the Madera PD. A recent firearm discharge near Madera High School successfully demonstrated a lightning fast response, from the Madera PD, which dispatched officers who were on site within minutes of being notified. The plan worked as designed and the situation was resolved expeditiously.
The school district has a very robust safety committee that meets monthly. The next meeting will take place on September 4, 2018, 5:00-7:00 pm at the District Office. Anyone interested is welcome to attend this monthly public meeting.