A month after the deadly massacre of 17 high school students in Parkland, Florida at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, students, teachers and parents in Rohnert Park participated in the National Walk Out last Wednesday, an event to show solidarity in the survivor’s campaign to tighten gun control and to pay tribute to the young lives lost on that tragic day. Some older students walked out of class at 10 a.m. for 17 minutes, some participated in a kindness day at elementary schools and some parents and teachers went out to demonstrate after school on the RP Expressway with hand painted signs and a look of determination.
Whatever the method, voices in the community are being heard and the overarching message is that teachers do not want to be armed, students want safe schools and the Cotati-Rohnert Park Unified School District needs to be better prepared for an emergency such as an active shooter or other threats, as grim as the thought may be.
Students at Rancho Cotate High School walked out into the quad at 10 a.m. for 17 minutes and Nafe Nafe, one of Rancho’s Associated Student Body members, became the impromptu leader for the event. Nafe lead the student body on a peaceful walk from the main office down Snyder Lane and back with hand written posters.
“We walked for 17 minutes for every student lost. We wanted to stand up for what we believe in and wanted to have our voices heard,” Nafe said. “We then walked to the senior stage and lined up with our signs and I gave a last minute speech.”
When asked if the spirited teen feels safe at school he said while he does, he knows school safety is something other students are worried about.
According to Nafe, Rancho has had earthquake, fire and lockdown drills, but no active shooter drills. While lockdown drills simply teach students to hunker down under a desk, an active shooter drill can teach more steps, such as the “Run, Hide, Fight” method, as well as learning basic first aid from public safety.
“Specifically, there has never been an active shooter drill when I was here,” Nafe said. Nevertheless, Nafe and the ASB team want to work with Rohnert Park Public Safety to go over more in depth safety drills with students.
Rohnert Park’s Technology High School, also participated in the March 14 walk out. According to Pinkeo Phongsa, a student at Tech High, groups of students walked out alongside SSU students for around 17 minutes.
When asked if Phongsa has ever had an active shooter drill in school she said the only time she has had one was when she was in elementary school.
The Community Voice reached out to the superintendent of the school district, Robert Haley, to have the alleged claim of the lack of regular active shooter drills addressed. Haley said that the claim/information was inaccurate.
“We do drill for active shooter situations and other threat scenarios with staff. We also do various drills with students, but we are very cautious about involving school children in some of our scenario planning and drills… Our principals and other administrators have and are, attending active shooter threat analysis and response trainings. They share this information with staff and plan their site drills accordingly,” Haley said.
However, Phongsa said, “I have had one. But the last time I hadone was in elementary school. I definitely feel like the schools should be taking precautionary measures because it is better to beprepared than underprepared.”
Yet, the district seems to have an alleged alarming lack of un-preparedness, with students and teachers saying they have not had regular active shooter drills and that the district Comprehensive Safety Plans were not posted until after the required March 1 deadline. What’s more, 10 out of the 11 schools in the district were not able to produce a hard copy of a safety plan, according to Anita Rosin
and her team at the Rohnert Park-Cotati Alliance for Quality Education. Students, teachers and parents are now saying they want to be prepared and sadly they should be prepared since school shootings and violence seem to plague the country.
Later that day, parents and teachers gathered at a demonstration near Safeway on the Rohnert Park Expressway and echoed Phongsa’s thoughts, saying school safety and preparation is their number one priority.
According to Jodie Palmigiano, a concerned parent in the district who was at the protest, district school safety can be improved.
“I think what we could have is up to date school safety plans and fences and more regular active shooter drills. We need to be proactive,” Palmigiano said. The other message that she hoped to accomplish at the day’s protest was awareness. “This is so much of a problem and it’s a problem we cannot expect our kids to solve.”
In addition to raising awareness to the importance of school safety precautionary measures, 2nd-grade teacher at Richard Crane Elementary School, Ellen Giunchigliani, said that elected officials need to take action and know that teachers don’t want to be armed, a solution to school shootings that President Trump has repeatedly recommended.
“I do not want a gun in my classroom. I want pencils and supplies… It (the demonstration) is important because I am horrified at the violence in our society and horrified that school shootings have become commonplace and I do not understand how our elected officials aren’t horrified and not doing anything,” Giunchigliani said. “Something needs to be done and we need to speak up.”
Despite Haley’s statement saying the district has implemented regular active shooter drills and the district’s Comprehensive Safety Plan has been posted on the district website (http://www.crpusd.org/Domain/1114), some parent, teacher and student concerns on lack of preparation for an active shooter or any other emergency are valid concerns.
Many parents have taken to Facebook to make their concerns known on the “Our schools, our community, our kids, our future” Facebook page.
One parent, Edith Dolan wrote, “I know of a 4th-grade teacher who said after this most recent massacre/shooting, they have no idea what they are supposed to do, how terrifying for them to have no guidance.”
Another parent Joe DiGiacinto, said in a post that his middle schooler says they have had no active shooter drills this year. “My son attends Lawrence Jones Middle School, he says they have had no emergency shooter on campus drills this school year.”
Cassie Vail, a parent to a high schooler at Rancho wanted to bring the topic of school safety up with her son and she says that he is clueless on what to do if there was an active shooter.
“He states that there has been no conversation at all regarding readiness if an event is to happen at Rancho. He is clueless on how to react, he is clueless if there are locks on the doors, he is clueless about where to go or what to do. The scary part is, I can’t help him,” Vail wrote on the page. “The school district has not addressed students or parents.”
The Community Voice told Haley that some children don’t feel safe or prepared at school. When asked if that was alarming, Haley simply said he would encourage to have the principal of the children be addressed about school safety considerations.
And in regards to the district Comprehensive Safety Plan, which is required by the state of California to be uploaded onto the district website and made available by March 1 (the plan was posted late last Thursday), many schools do not have a hardcopy of their own Comprehensive Safety Plan (Each school is required to have their approved plan by March 1, except for new schools, which have to initiate their plan within one year of the start of operation) on site and some didn’t even know what a Comprehensive Safety Plan was. Some simply referred to the district’s online plan.
“Last week, community members walked into all of the schools in the district and requested to see the Comprehensive Safety Plans. 10 out of the 11 schools in the district could not readily produce a copy of a Comprehensive Safety Plan that complies with education code,” Rosin said. “Since the district claims that there are ‘much more extensive safety plans at each school that are not easily copied and or digitized’ and since the Education Code says those are to be made readily available for public inspection, the community fully expected to find the safety plans in the site officers.”
The Alliance for Quality Education sent in members of the Sonoma County community to each school asking to for the safety plans. Elizabeth Tenant of Petaluma visited Lawrence Jones Middle School asking for the plans and said they didn’t even seem to know what was being requested of them.
“They gave me the wrong booklet, it wasn’t even a Comprehensive Safety Plan it was an Injury and Illness Prevention Plan (which is for school site staff). They did not seem to know what we were talking about,” Tenant said. “They referred us to talk to somebody at the district. They seemed confused and seemed to think it was the IIPP… and I was really shocked. It’s supposed to be on file and they didn’t even know what it was.”
And while the school district does have their own safety plan, it doesn’t quite lay out the safety plans in detail. The plan says that there will be procedures for responding to the sale and use of alcohol or drugs amongst students, for the instance of an earthquake or a hate crime or if there is a threat to students on campus among many other scenarios. However, these procedures are not listed or detailed. However, the state of California template for the safety plan does lay out the earthquake preparedness procedures, such as detailing a building disaster plan and a drop and cover procedure. These are details that the district plan does not go into and while the site claims that the individual school plans are more detailed, 10 out of the 11 schools could not produce a copy of their own plans.
“If site staff are not knowledgeable about what the safety plan requirements are, what a safety plan even is and cannot locate it in 15 seconds, how on earth are they expected to react in an emergency, whether it be an earthquake, fire or something manmade?” Rosin asked.
With this younger generation of kids seemingly being raised alongside gun violence, being prepared for a tragedy seems mandatory. While we hope that a massacre such as the one at Stoneman Douglas, or Sandy Hook or Columbine never happen to us, in this day in age we still have to be prepared.
Nafe said of the school safety situation, gun control and of this generation’s new burgeoning fear, “We as students have the right to be heard and we want safety. It should be unnecessary to fear stepping onto a school campus.”