Safety forum provides information, raises questions

The Claremont Unified School District and Claremont Police Department on Monday held the city’s first joint school safety forum at El Roble.

The two-hour forum included presentations by police department personnel and mental health staff from the district, as well as the screening of a film providing tips on what to do during an active shooter situation at a school.

Police Chief Shelly Vander Veen explained that Claremont officers go through critical incident training at least every two years. She reminded parents that any threat to a school—whether it be in writing, in person, by phone or on social media—is considered a serious crime by local police; even if the child was joking.

“There are legal consequences,” Chief Vander Veen said. “Our priority is to stop a threat before its real, but we take every threat very seriously.”

In his presentation, Captain Aaron Fate aimed to      temper parents’ fears and reminded people to always keep “a good situational awareness” when out in public.

“We don’t want you to leave tonight feeling scared or paranoid or terrible,” he said. “We want you to leave here feeling like there is something we can do. This training is about preparation.”

The 150 or so attendees were shown an 11-minute simulation video that offered directives for keeping safe in an actual school shooting. The response plan presents three options—run, hide, fight.

“The shooter’s goal is to attack as many people as possible in a short time span,” Captain Fate said. “We need to interrupt what they are doing.”

Sgt. David DeMetz then gave step-by-step instructions of what to do when confronted with an active shooter.

“Leave your belongings behind. Take charge and get people moving,” he said. “Prevent others from entering the danger zone and, once you’re safe, call 9-1-1.”

If running away is an option because the shooter is on another part of campus, do so, he said. If you can hear gunfire nearby, barricade the door as much as possible to delay the shooter and have students hide in closets, behind tables or under kitchen sinks.

“There is a big difference between co

ver and concealment—cover is to stop the bullet and concealment refers to hiding—but we want both,” he said.

Choosing to fight, he said, is a personal choice, but any effort to safely delay the shooter should be made.

Sgt. DeMetz said prevention is the key to prevent mass shootings and he urges parents to monitor children’s devices—social media, texting and even web searches.

“Ask questions, have open discussions with your kids,” he said. “Be engaged and talk to them.”

Police said in 81 percent of the recent school shootings, at least one person knew about the plan. Sgt. DeMetz, who said there is a greater likelihood of being struck by lightening than being victim of a school shooting, stressed that kids need to feel comfortable talking to adults about warning signs they may see in classmates.

Part of the community safety plan includes a school resource officer, Jennifer Ganino, who is funded jointly by the district and police department.

In addition to dealing with safety at CHS, Officer Ganino also conducts the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) program with all CUSD fifth graders.

Chief Vander Veen cautioned audience members to remain alert to changes in personality with young people and to talk to their kids about using available technology, like the BullyBox app, to report crimes or threats of crime.

“But remember, reporting threats with this technology is one-way,” she said. “The police can’t ask questions, so it’s important to leave very detailed information.”

But even with the latest technology and preparedness, Chief Vander Veen reiterated that the most powerful deterrent to school violence is maintaining a “healthy school culture with adequate psychological supports.”

Psychological supports at CUSD

Lisa Banks-Toma, the district’s mental health coordinator, offered information on intervention and counseling options available to CUSD families.

Ms. Banks-Toma said that, after review and approval by a district panel, counseling interns at each school site can provide youth therapy three days a week. The district also offers suicide prevention courses to secondary staff.

And, in April and May, the district will offer “Mental Health First Aid-Youth,” a free eight-hour course for CUSD parents, caregivers and community members. Training at the class will be provided by Tri-City Mental Health representatives, who will address common mental health challenges for youth and will teach a five-step action plan for how to help young people in both crisis and non-crisis situations.

After completing the course, attendees will be given certification by the National Council for Behavioral Health,  stating he or she is a mental health first-aider.

This class will be offered in English and in Spanish. Registration is required. For information, email Rosa Leong at rleong@cusd.claremont.edu or call (909) 398-0609, extension 70246.

The Q&A portion of the meeting explored mental health services provided by the district. One parent asked what CUSD is doing to improve services when counselors, who are nearly all interns working on certifications, are constantly changing.

“We’ve opened positions for post-master’s students, who need 3,000 to 3,300 hours. We are trying to make it a career path for them,” Ms. Banks-Toma said.

In addition to counselor retention, reducing the stigma around mental health is also a district priority, Ms. Banks-Toma said. One such effort is to hold Green Ribbon Week from May 21 to May 25, where CHS students will be introduced to strategies to maintain good mental health and to learn to ask for help.

No exact formula for intervention was presented by the district Monday night, and when asked how CUSD identifies “troubled youth” at a young age, Ms. Banks-Toma was less specific.

“The schools are talking about it. Interventions are going to happen,” she said. “Things are happening behind the scenes.”

She went on to say that when confronted with a student who may be deemed a higher risk because of a dramatic change in behavior or suddenly becoming withdrawn, for example, counselors meet and talk with a nursing and mental health team.

“We say, ‘What are we seeing? Is there a change from the norm?” she said. “There are students we track.”

Ms. Banks-Toma feels encouraged by the students who are beginning to “champion this themselves.”

“They are giving each other ideas to cope with stress,” she said, such as a daily tip in the morning Wolfcast, which is broadcast campus-wide at CHS.

If your child is exhibiting behavior that is concerning to you or if a friend of your child seems despondent, calling the school district or the school principal is the first step to get things moving.

“Parents need to reach out, we want to hear from you,” she said.

—Kathryn Dunn

editor@claremont-courier.com

 

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