The high school’s in a lockdown, what does that mean?
I tried texting my kid, but there’s too much traffic. What’s going on?
The school’s been evacuated, where’s my daughter?
Whenever there’s a school emergency — anything from a broken water main to an active shooter — parents ask questions like these, and too often, no one knows the answers. But in California’s Corona-Norco Unified School District, an online educational video and a strong partnership between the school and the community ensure that in this district, those questions don’t go unanswered.
“School Safety: Learn How You Can Help,” (available at http://news.cnusd.net/school-safety-learn-how-you-can-help/) is just one component among many in Project Safety Net, the district’s award-winning school safety program (see sidebar, “Partnership, Best Practices Result in National Award”). Associate Superintendent of Instructional Support Michael Cobarrubias says that Corona-Norco, like many other school systems, took a hard look at safety issues following the December 2012 incident at Sandy Hook, and the district came up with an ongoing plan of improvements that range from monthly radio tests to online video and other resources to partnerships with the two local law enforcement agencies.
“We continue to harden the target,” Cobarrubias says. “Rather than having to react to an event, we are trying to be proactive. We hope nothing happens, of course, but the more safety nets we have, the more we are able to protect our students and staff.”
Several of those “safety nets” can be found online, including “School Safety: Learn How You Can Help.” The video explains the difference between a lockdown and an evacuation, tells parents where to go for accurate information in the event of an emergency, suggests that parents form telephone/email/text chains to spread information and explains the need to bring identification to a reunification area. In addition to its Internet availability, school administrators have used it at PTA and other parent meetings. A second video, “Active Shooter Preparedness,” addresses non-law enforcement reaction to an active shooter event, and a booklet titled Project Safety Net (http://www.cnusd.k12.ca.us//flipbook/safetynet/#p=28) gives an overview of the entire program.
Corona-Norco has made safety a priority, using a combination of budgetary funds, grants and money raised through school bond issues to fund the program for the district’s 50 schools, 54,000 students and 5,000 employees. Two years in, suspension rates have fallen five percent and expulsion rates have fallen 16 percent. Student responses to the California Healthy Kids Survey indicate that students say they feel much safer on campus than they did before the program started.
Part of that feeling of improved safety comes from an increased police presence through the addition of SROs in the high schools and the Adopt-A-School program, whereby non-SRO officers frequently visit assigned schools to become a known, and welcome, presence. Lt. Neil Reynolds, who oversees the Special Enforcement Bureau for the Corona Police Department, characterizes his department’s partnership with the school district as “a great way to effectively and efficiently put resources in place to keep schools safe. Mike C has taken a very serious stance and is honestly concerned about school safety. He’s a pleasure to work with, and he’s really dedicated to making sure schools are safe. We have an open line of communication, and he and I speak frequently about what’s going on.”
In addition to providing SROs, Corona PD works with the school district on pedestrian safety and other safety information to the schools, and runs a successful Youth Diversion Program that allows students who are detained or arrested for a non-violent misdemeanor offense to work out a contract with their teachers, parents and law enforcement. Successful contract completion results in dismissal of the charges, and Reynolds characterizes the program as “very successful.” In 2013 and 2014 combined, approximately 125 students avoided probation and parole, and Reynolds says those cases include several amazing turnaround stories and “most of our contracted minors, learn they can dig a little deeper within themselves, during the contract period at least, and, in the end, comment on having a sense of relief and accomplishment, to varying degrees.”
Lt. Scott Forbes of the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department also uses superlatives when it comes to describing his agency’s participation in Project Safety Net: “We have a phenomenal relationship with both Michael Cobarrubias, who we work very closely on a daily basis, and with the district safety coordinator. There’s good collaboration all around. The SROs work with the principals at their schools, with their supervisor and with me. I interact with district administration, and the district also works with Corona PD and makes sure that everyone is working together to make this the safest environment possible.”
Part of that safe environment includes safe transportation routes, and Riverside SD provides a traffic team that concentrates on enforcement near schools at the beginning and end of the school days, as well as working the Walk-to-School program in Eastvale. Forbes says that in addition to promoting a healthier lifestyle, that program reduces the number of vehicles on the road and thus makes the streets even safer. The department also coordinates an annual active shooter drill in one of the district’s high schools, using some of its Explorer cadets to assist with role play.
“Trends, such as drug trends or social media trends, are constantly changing. The district and the city and law enforcement all do a good job of communicating so that everybody is on the same page. That makes for a really good team approach,” Forbes says.
And in the end, Cobarrubias says, that team approach is what lies at the core of Project Safety Net, and plays a key role in its winning the award and in its overall success.
The School Safety Advocacy Council honored Corona-Norco Unified School District and Project Safety Net with its 2015 Exemplary School Safety Initiative Award, recognizing the program for identifying and anticipating safety concerns, then systematically addressing each concern through the application of best practices and the development of innovative partnerships with the Corona Police Department, the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department, students, parents and community organizations.
Project Safety Net, implemented in summer 2013, includes the following components: