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After shootings, cities talk school security
By MIKE REICHER



Following the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut, Costa Mesa and Newport Beach police discussed heightening school security with district officials on Tuesday.

Officials said they may build more fences around school buildings, reduce the number of entrances to each school, install security cameras and take other security measures.

"What a world we have become where our kids in kindergarten have to learn how to protect themselves against an intruder with a gun," said Trustee Katrina Foley. "We want to change with the times, even though the times are changing in a tragic way."

Newport Beach Deputy Chief David McGill said police are going to assess threats and security vulnerabilities at primary schools, applying the same scrutiny they use at junior high and high schools.

"This was an eye-opener in Connecticut, with an elementary school," he said. "I mean for crying out loud."

Many parents contacted the board members about fencing, some of the trustees said. While Tuesday's meeting was announced on short notice, some parents and teachers also attended.

"In general, you need to be more vigilant," said Laura Mayberry, an 11th-grade teacher at Corona del Mar High School, before the meeting.

She added that her campus is vulnerable. "It's too open."

But a few people said they were concerned about fortifying the schools.

"I think there's an interesting and a healthy balance between a campus that feels secure to an extent, but doesn't feel overly institutionalized," Costa Mesa police Chief Tom Gazsi said.

Trustee Judy Franco drew a line in describing a school where every visitor has to buzz in at a locked exterior door.

"I think that goes too far," she said.

One board member asked if it might be better to arm school employees.

"If someone ... who was trained had access to a gun in a situation like this, maybe less damage would be done," said trustee Karen Yelsey.

But the police chiefs essentially told her to leave it to the professionals.

Some of the trustees brought up concerns at individual campuses: Roy O. Anderson Elementary School is designed with open walls on the classrooms, and in some cases without doors; Newport Elementary School's playground is not fenced, and beachgoers could wander onto campus.

Elizabeth Lapite, 49, a mother of two elementary-school students, suggested parents could train in law-enforcement measures and volunteer on campuses.

"Knowing that there are budget cuts and things were tight," she said after the meeting, this could be one way to add security.

Because of city budget cuts in Costa Mesa, there are no officers patrolling the schools, while Newport Beach has school resource officers assigned to high schools and other campuses.

So the question of funding inevitably came up.

"Security guards at the door of every school might be a wonderful idea in terms of security," said Deputy Superintendent Paul Reed, "but it will be a very costly trade-off in terms of teaching staff."

The trustees appeared ready to invest in more security.

"All these things we're talk about could be big expenses," Yelsey said, "but we all, I think, agree that security and safety of our students is the utmost responsibility."

Contact the writer: 714-796-2254 or mreicher@ocregister.com






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