Hart District addresses school safety as spring semester begins

The William S. Hart Union High School District. Dan Watson/The Signal
The William S. Hart Union High School District. Dan Watson/The Signal

Ahead of the new semester, William S. Hart Union High School District Deputy Superintendent Mike Kuhlman sent a statement to families mapping out school procedures and policies meant to further enhance safety on campuses.

After the Nov. 14 shooting at Saugus High School, Kuhlman said the district has worked with  multiple experts in the fields of safety and threat assessment, as well as a pediatrician who specializes in school crisis and bereavement support, in order to assist building upon the district’s safety policies.

“After the tragedy, we went back to look at the framework of our plan and how we’re going to put it into place with these experts’ models,” Kuhlman said. “We’re now working with people who have direct knowledge in the subject of safety protocol.”

Among the experts are Dr. David Schonfeld, who has served as the commissioner for the National Commission on Children and Disasters and the Sandy Hook Advisory Commission; Patrick Prince, the Chief Threat Assessment Officer at the University of Southern California; Joseph Wright, member of the Association of Threat Assessment Professionals; and Ben Kallin, Threat Assessment Officer at the University of Southern California.  

In 2018, the district provided a safety planning and emergency preparedness message that included all the current procedures to ensure school safety.

These procedures include: campus security; lockdown protocols; comprehensive safety plans related to child abuse, hate crimes, bullying and other situations; emergency drills; availablility of mental health professionals; text-a-tip lines, where students can text school administration and local law enforcement about suspicious activity; and a threat-assessment team to determine resources available for at-risk individuals.

“We have these essential pieces in place, now we’re just working to enhance the system,” said Kuhlman. “The experts we’re working with say the best investment is in preparation through mental health support.”

Board President Linda Storli said the district can always improve, and mental health has been a primary focus in the high schools.

In the statement, Kuhlman said the district has invested in development to provide trauma-informed teaching and counseling by placing 50 therapists in schools in order to “serve the mental health needs of children of the Santa Clarita Valley,” and has hired a mental health coordinator to open wellness centers in schools, along with seven social workers and a child welfare specialist.

“I have no authority over gun control, but I can talk about mental health resources,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger, chair of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. “I made the commitment that day (of the Saugus Shooting) that (the superintendents and I) are going to work together and help students in the community.”

Barger represents the county’s 5th District, which includes the Santa Clarita Valley. 

Storli said she would like to see more mental health classes being offered starting in middle school, but mainly catered toward juniors and seniors in high school. She added she would like to begin a discussion regarding that topic at upcoming board meetings.

Since parents can still experience a level of anxiety as their children return to school, Kuhlman encourages parents and community members to come to community meetings, in which a panel of experts the district has worked with will speak and answer questions. Kuhlman anticipates there will be two meetings during the spring semester, but dates have not yet been scheduled.

Kuhlman also said it’s his personal commitment to always keep the victims and their families in mind as he steps into a leadership position after the retirement of Superintendent Vicki Engbrecht later this semester.

While the school district is making its best efforts, and coordinating with local, regional and national resources as much as possible, ultimately, Storli noted schools and the community can only make their best efforts to make sure a tragedy like the one that took place Nov. 14 doesn’t happen again.

“I don’t see anything that anyone could have done differently at Saugus,” said Storli. “It could have happened anywhere, it wasn’t specifically school-related. Doesn’t mean my heart doesn’t ache, but there’s nothing that could’ve been done.” 

Vivianna Shields contributed to this report.

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