In the wake of the Uvalde, Texas, school shooting and recent incidents involving students in the WIlliam S. Hart Union High School District, school officials have made it a priority to review and engage with their community about ongoing safety protocols, and discuss safety goals.
The Hart district hosted its Safe Schools Discussion Wednesday evening at the city of Santa Clarita’s Activities Center. More than 100 people attended the discussion, which also included some words from Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station Capt. Justin Diez.
“Public safety is the name of the game,” Diez said. “Although crime has gone up in the last couple of years, we’re still [better] relative to the rest of the county. That’s why people bring their kids to go to school, why business came here, and you know, that’s why we’ve been here.”
“I think we are in good shape,” he added.
According to Hart district Superintendent Mike Kuhlman, the purpose of the discussion was to share progress on implementing “best practices” from the Prince/Kallin report, in addition to discussing areas of strength and considering new or existing areas of safety to enhance.
During the presentation, district officials used two recent incidents — one in which deputies arrested a 15-year-old Canyon High School student on suspicion of stealing his mother’s car, and another in which deputies arrested a 50-year-old man on suspicion of physically assaulting a student from Rio Norte Junior High School — as examples or focal points to describe how safety tools and measures were used.
“The Hart district has been working diligently to enhance both safety and wellness supports since the Saugus tragedy, which occurred in November 2019,” read Kuhlman’s welcome letter to attendees. “Our efforts have been guided by a report prepared by several experts in the field.”
Kathy Hunter, assistant superintendent of student services, safety and wellness, and Collyn Nielsen, assistant superintendent of human resources, led the discussion on mental health and wellness, site security, communication, policy and training.
“As our community has to evolve, we have seen an increase in students identified as economically disadvantaged, and we know from Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, that students cannot learn if their basic needs for food, shelter and safety are not met,” Hunter said.
To meet those needs, the district created a partnership with CareSource, which is a web-based program that can help connect people with others or organizations for those specific needs — for example, a food bank.
“As we move forward, the school sites are offering more courses on social-emotional learning and we are continuing to provide learning opportunities in areas such as conflict resolution.”
Nielsen mentioned the role SROs, school resource officers, play in ensuring safety at all their school sites, and said the district is looking into increasing the number of SROs in the future.
“All of our safety protocols have been developed in collaboration with the SCV Sheriff’s Station, and our current SRO program has an expenditure of about $4.5 million,” Nielsen said.
The Hart district heard some members of the community that they’d like to see additional SROs, and if that is the wish of the community, the Hart district says it will cost $2.9 million the first year, he added.
District officials would do further research and examine ways of funding more SROs on campus, he said.
In addition, Nielsen said the district undertook a project to standardize the number of cameras installed on campuses, and in the summer of 2021 the district installed an additional 196 cameras.
There are approximately 36 cameras at each high school campus, and 24 at each junior high school, he added. The district also applied shattering-resistant film to approximately 27,000 square feet of glass across the district to prevent any injuries in case of an emergency.
District officials discussed ongoing practices in depth and reassured community members they are implementing safety protocols and measures to ensure the safety of their students and staff.
At the end of the discussion, attendees were able to have roundtable discussions with members of their table, which included a deputy and district staff member. Attendees asked questions and provided feedback regarding areas of improvement they believed the district should consider.
“The feedback we receive from this discussion will help identify evolving security needs and allocate resources to enhance safety and security,” Kuhlman wrote in his letter to attendees. “We are all safer as we work together on these important objectives.”
For parents or community members who could not attend the discussion, the Hart district included the report, “Enhancing Plans and Procedures for the Prevention of Targeted Violence,” on the Safety Page on the Hart district website, hartdistrict.org.