Amid a flurry of concern over school security that’s resonated in Santa Clarita due to the Florida shooting and several subsequent local threats, school officials hosted a question-and-answer session with The Signal at Saugus High.
“School safety is on everyone’s mind, understandably so in light of recent events,” said Shirley Miller, PIO for the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station at the start of the interview. “We reached out to the community for questions they would ask of a school resource officer if they had the opportunity.”
Station officials answered questions from the community for more than a half-hour, discussing everything from procedure during an incident to how information is disseminated during and after a lockdown-type situation.
Deputy Sheriff Tom Drake and Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff's Station public information officer Shirley Miller discuss school safety with reporter Austin Dave live from a local high school.
Posted by Santa Clarita Valley Signal on Thursday, February 22, 2018
After a shooting in Florida that killed 17 people last week, Sheriff’s Department officials have noted a heightened sense of concern. That sense of concern may have influenced the fact that there’s been at least three reports in the SCV in recent weeks, all of which have led to varied levels of response.
Deputy Tom Drake joined Miller for a sit down to discuss what happens when deputies are alerted to a possible concern on a campus.
“Once an incident takes place, the deputy is on scene with the assistant principal, administration; they conduct a very thorough investigation,” Drake said, adding that during some of the investigations, deputies end up checking out addresses off-campus to gather information.
In fact, during Thursday’s interview, a school incident began unfolding at a local charter school, SCVi, which prompted such a response. In that incident, the suspect, a ninth-grader, was contacted by deputies at the student’s Piru home. The student was detained about noon on suspicion of making criminal threats, capping a three-hour precautionary lockdown of the Castaic charter school.
“At some point, the administrators (and) the principal, wants to get word out to the parents—because it happens very quickly,” Drake said. “Once rumor starts to spread in one classroom, it goes from classroom to classroom, and then that rumor starts to grow; then students with social media are texting their parents, their friends…when it was something small, it ends up taking on a life of its own.”
The William S. Hart Union High School District’s ConnectEd system allows administration to instantly alert parents via email that something is being looked into, he said. He also said the incidents in recent days present a powerful opportunity for parents to have an important discussion with parents regarding these types of incidents.
Part of the concern with students reading and watching so many reports regarding school violence, is that they’re “fixating” on it, Drake said, which is creating situations where kids are creating threats that they think are jokes—but these same threats also provoke a very real response.
Miller also noted that parents should be aware that law enforcement officials have to be careful about what information is released while an incident is under investigation.
“The school sends out emails and they can’t get very specific about what the threat was,” Miller said, referring to security concerns, “and I think that people may automatically assume the worse, when in actuality, it may just be a careless comment made by a student who was joking.”
However, as both Drake and Miller noted, a threat assessment is called for regardless of how the statement initially was intended.
“We take all threats seriously,” Drake re-iterated Thursday. “I always tell students to think before you send something: ‘Is this going to get me in trouble.’”