California educators, law enforcement reps gather in OC for school safety conference

A packed hotel ballroom
Attendees of the ninth annual Safe Schools Conference gather for the first general session on Wednesday. The conference has drawn more than 600 school counselors, police officers, youth service workers, elected officials and other school and community leaders.

More than 600 educators, school workers and law enforcement representatives have convened in Orange County this week to collaborate and share best practices on critical school safety topics, including bullying, mental health and campus violence.

The ninth annual Safe Schools Conference, featuring more than 50 separate workshops, began Wednesday and continues through Friday at Delta Hotels by Marriott Anaheim Garden Grove.

State Superintendent Tom Torlakson, Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens and former California Education Secretary Dave Long
State Superintendent Tom Torlakson meets with Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens and former California Education Secretary Dave Long at the ninth annual Safe Schools Conference in Garden Grove.

Presented by former California Secretary of Education Dave Long through his firm, Dave Long & Associates, in collaboration with OCDE and the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, the three-day event represents a unique partnership between the education community and law enforcement.

The conference annually draws school counselors, police officers, youth service workers, elected officials and other school and community leaders interested in learning more about student safety, as well as its impact on school attendance and academic performance.

“The objective is to have the experts come in … and share best practices,” Long said. “It is to hear the very latest technology. It is to share the latest things that they are doing inside of their school districts and law enforcement agencies to help children.”

Fifty-four breakout sessions will cover such topics as bullying, active shooter response, social media trends, human trafficking, gang intervention, drug prevention, restorative practices, suspensions and expulsions, crisis management for schools and classroom climates.

Tom Torlakson, the state’s superintendent of public instruction, said mental health has increasingly become a focus.

“​We need to intervene earlier to help young people when they’re depressed, when they’re angry, when they might become suicidal and take a gun and go on campus and hurt other people,” Torlakson told the OCDE Newsroom. “We can do a lot by getting early intervention and then having services. So that is a big push.”

As in years past, each day of the sold-out conference also features a different keynote presenter.

Internationally recognized speaker, trainer, author, teacher and educational consultant Dr. Stephen Sroka headlined Wednesday’s general session. Sroka offers expertise on a number of topics, including school safety, health education, violence, alternative education, dropout prevention and leadership-building for schools and communities.

Today, participants will hear from New York Times best-selling author and lecturer Michael Hingson, who escaped from the 78th floor of Tower One in the World Trade Center with his guide dog Roselle moments before the building collapsed on Sept. 11, 2001. Hingson will share lessons of trust, courage, heroism and teamwork.

Finally, on Friday, Orange County Chief Probation Officer Steve Sentman will facilitate a panel of young people who have found success in life after navigating the county’s probation system. The session will exemplify the positive outcomes that result from educators and law enforcement officials working together.

In addition, Officer J. Fulton, a school resource officer with the Garden Grove Police Department, and Chris Vlasic, director of safety and personnel services for the Los Alamitos Unified School District, will each be honored as the 2018 recipients of the Distinguished Safe Schools Award.

For more information on the conference, or to get involved with future conferences, visit