The William S. Hart Union High School District has announced plans to host a series of school-security-related events, culminating in a 2022 Security Symposium open to all in the community.
In interviews with The Signal on Thursday, Hart district officials said the purpose of the symposium later in the summer will be to not only inform parents and students on the work that the district has done in recent years to improve safety on school campuses, but also give attendees an opportunity to engage with school security and law enforcement professionals and provide the experts with their ideas and input.
Board President Joe Messina, who has been working with district officials for the past few months to coordinate the event, said he hopes it will show families at the beginning of the school year how the district is improving both preventative and proactive security measures in the wake of not only the Saugus High School shooting, but also in light of recent shootings in Uvalde, Texas, and other places throughout the country.
“It’s just one of those things where we’ll be going back to school and parents are really concerned that we haven’t done anything (since the Saugus High shooting),” said Messina on Thursday. “We need to have an open community dialogue.”
Superintendent Mike Kuhlman said he supported the plan to hold a symposium because he, as well as experts in law enforcement and gun-violence prevention, believe the new policies the district has been rolling out over the past three years have already “saved children’s lives.”
“Safety has always been a top priority for the Hart district, but it is all the more so a priority given what we experienced with the tragedy at Saugus High School,” Kuhlman said. “And it’s important for the community to feel secure in knowing that we have kept this as a priority focus that they can then see evidence of.”
In the aftermath of the shooting that took the lives of Saugus students Dominic Blackwell, 14, and Gracie Muehlberger, 15, before the gunman, Nathaniel Berhow, 16, turned the gun on himself, district officials said they first reached out to the community and asked for their input on how they can try to avoid another tragedy such as this in the future.
The district then, according to Kuhlman, worked with a private firm to construct a report that compiled various recommendations for the district’s safety programs and policies. Some new programs that are being implemented, or have already been implemented, include things such as the Crisis-Go communication platform that communicates with multiple systems and law enforcement agencies; a new visitor program, annual safety audits and teams that help provide support and services to students who may be in need or suffering from mental health issues.
A particular program the district plans to highlight in the coming months is the new cyber-security program (Bark for Schools) that alerts administration to alarming language or images of concern used by students via their school-based emails and Google accounts.
“It’s, for example, if a child is struggling with depression, and maybe exhibiting some signs of suicidality, we would know that and we can intervene early,” said Kuhlman. “And I can tell you without exaggeration that, for a fact, we have saved children’s lives because this program, Bark for Schools, alerts us to something that a student has written and then allows us to intervene and get supports in place.”
According to Messina, the first half of the free event will be a review of what the district has done over the past few years by experts and law enforcement on school campuses to improve safety. The second part will then involve breakout groups, bringing those same experts and law enforcement personnel into direct conversation with parents/students.
“We’re going to do breakout tables where parents, administrators and law enforcement will be sitting at different tables, talking about what they’d like to see happen, what they perceive as an issue or a problem,” said Messina. “The point we’re trying to drive home is that it’s really going to be community-involved.”
The 2022 Hart District Security Symposium is set to be held on Aug. 31 at 6 p.m. at the city of Santa Clarita Activities Center, located at 20880 Centre Pointe Parkway.
In addition to the symposium, which is designed specifically for Hart district families, the Hart district plans to also hold a Zoom webinar for all educational leaders and officials on July 27. On the call, those in attendance will hear from Prince/Kallin Consultants on what the latest research and methods are in mitigating and preventing campus violence.
Furthermore, Hart board member Bob Jensen said on Thursday that he has requested that staff provide a progress update and conversation for the members of the board and the public regarding the latest school safety updates during the regular board meeting on Aug. 17 — providing families with two opportunities to be up to date on their students’ safety while at school.
“I want (the community) to know what we plan for the future, what our intentions are and where we’re going with it,” said Jensen. “Kids need to be able to go to school and feel safe and feel comfortable and be able to have a mental and emotional state where they can focus, concentrate, and feel happy.”