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Communication is stressed for school campus safety

As the school year begins in the City of Trees, the Claremont Unified School District and the Claremont Police Department are working together to make sure students are safe.

The joint school board/city council meeting Tuesday evening featured a presentation on coordination during an emergency from Police Chief Shelly Vander Veen and Assistant Superintendent Brad Cuff, who this year replaced Mike Bateman.

Part of keeping students safe is controlling who goes in and out of school and making sure they’re not a threat. Enter the Raptor program, which checks visitors’ ID cards against a nationwide database of sex offenders before they’re allowed to roam school grounds.

Once a visitor’s driver’s license is scanned, Mr. Cuff said, a badge with their name and picture on it is printed out to wear around campus.

“That helps us monitor who is on campus to make sure everyone is safe,” Mr. Cuff said.

Board member Nancy Treser Osgood asked if students were aware of the Raptor system, calling them “our eyes and ears” on campus.

Mr. Cuff noted the school district has made announcements to parents and students about the check-in process, and playground duty supervisors are actively monitoring the campus for any strangers.

“I can assure you that [students] can report anyone who is a stranger on campus,” Mr. Cuff said.

Mr. Cuff also talked about various drills the school district performs throughout the year. These include two earthquake drills a year at every school, fire drills that are performed monthly at elementary schools and twice a year at secondary schools.

Each school conducts four lockdown drills every year, two during class time and two during non-class time.

“We’re trying to follow the same protocol as the police department,” Mr. Cuff said. “We practice and we practice and we make corrections and debrief and discuss how to improve.”

School Resource Officer Jennifer Ganino works with the school district, overseeing safety plans and lockdown procedures and making changes if needed, Mr. Cuff said.

The school district also has both a formal and informal relationship with the police department through numerous meetings with each other, which helps when reporting an emergency.

“I can pick up the phone and call the chief if I need to and say. ‘Hey this is a rumor or something that we heard is occurring, can you help us validate this?’ And they’ll get back to us right away,” Mr. Cuff said.

Chief Vander Veen went over how emergency situations would be handled by the Claremont Police Department.

She stressed the importance of communication, not just between officers and school staff, but with students as well. Anonymous reporting apps like BullyBox or STOPit enable students to inform a teacher or an officer if they suspect a threat against their school.

In roughly 80 percent of school shootings, the chief said, at least one fellow student knew about the attacker’s plan beforehand.

“It’s clear that communication is key,” Chief Vander Veen said.

The department looks at all threats made against Claremont schools, especially on social media. Incident training is conducted every two years, but the police department is willing to provide more frequent training if a school requests it.

If an emergency occurs at a school, the department can have up to 15 officers on scene to respond. Depending on the severity of the threat, the CPD can request outside assistance from nearby agencies or request additional resources and manpower from other departments in the region.

If needed, the police department’s mobile Emergency Operations Center could be used as a makeshift base, the chief said.

Ms. Treser Osgood also asked if there was any coordination on a “reverse 911,” meaning a text-based messaging system that would alert students or faculty in case of an emergency. During last week’s earthquake, she said, she got such a text from the Claremont Colleges and was wondering if there was integration between the CPD and the school district on a similar system.

“I guess I’m worried that something might fall through the cracks,” she said.

There is no linkage between various city entities—the city, the Colleges and the school district—on such a system, Chief Vander Veen said. Mr. Cuff added that part of the relationship between the CPD and the school district is coordinating with each other to make sure the same message is sent out when an emergency occurs. 

“That’s where that informal communication helps,” he said.

Youth program update

The joint meeting also saw an update on youth programs being offered by the city.

Human Services Director Anne Turner, Youth Program Supervisor Skylar Segura and Youth Program Coordinator Jennifer Helé presented the report.

The program’s aim, Ms. Turner said, is to create a connection among Claremont’s youth and help them form connections with the broader community.

“[The program is] a safe space where they can disconnect from external expectation and pressures and reconnect with each other,” Ms. Turner said.

Paramount to the program are the Tracks Activity Center (TAC) at El Roble Intermediate School and the Youth Activity Center (YAC) at Taylor Hall. The YAC and TAC both help students with resume building, college applications, tutoring, art exhibition and in giving students space and the opportunity to express themselves through discussion about various issues.

Ms. Helé expressed interest in getting students from San Antonio High School involved in the youth programs, from offering Dial-A-Ride service to the YAC to holding several events and tutoring sessions at SAHS just for those students.

Board Member Beth Bingham cautioned against minimizing the community that SAHS has already created for itself, as opposed to shuttling students to and from Taylor Hall.

“We don’t need to feel as if the only value is to be at the high school,” she said. “They have an identity and a value of their own which we really cherish and which we really think has been an important part of who we are as a district and particularly at the high school.”

The joint meeting also featured Claremont Library Director Amy Crow who discussed the ConnectED Library Card Challenge happening this fall.

The school board also awarded the three departing city councilmembers—Mayor Opanyi Nasiali, Councilmember Sam Pedroza and Councilmember Joe Lyons—with certificates of recognition for their service.

—Matthew Bramlett

news@claremont-courier.com