OC education, government, law enforcement leaders offer candid discussion on school safety

Orange County’s public schools, law enforcement and other government agencies have boosted collaborative efforts in recent years aimed at preventing school shootings and other dangerous situations involving student safety.

These efforts include improved training for teachers and school staff on how to react to an active shooter on campus, increased support to identify bullying and the other social and emotional issues that can lead to a student feeling isolated from peers, and better communication among different police agencies that can allow faster responses to potential threats.

These were some of the key talking points from a forum held Tuesday evening at Canyon High in Anaheim, an event organized to offer information to parents and community members of how Orange County is responding to the recent rash of mass shootings in schools and other places nationwide.

speakers discuss how schoools are dealing with school shootingsThe event, which drew more than 150 parents and community members, was organized by the Orange County Department of Education, the Orange Unified School District, county Supervisor Todd Spitzer and local police agencies.

“Research today shows that the No. 1 issue for parents is student safety,” county Superintendent of Schools Dr. Al Mijares told the crowd. “In reality, anything can happen at any time. That’s why we must brings all these different community groups together to work collaboratively to help address this problem.”

Despite the forum happening three weeks after the shooting at a high school in Parkland, Fla. that resulted in the deaths of 17 students and others, the forum held inside Canyon High’s gymnasium had been planned several weeks ago.

Still, the recent Florida shooting made the local forum even more relevant, speakers said.

Spitzer talked about a recent threat received by his son’s high school. Spitzer, a former English teacher and assistant district attorney, said even he was unsure what to tell his son to do when he received the call of a potential active shooter.

“My son asked what he should do, I wasn’t prepared to answer,” he said. “It’s telling that as parents, many of us might have that same reaction.” (The call of an active shooter turned out to be a false alarm.)

OC SUpervisor Todd Spitzer speaks with a group about school safetyHe added, “Crime is up, we’re seeing things we’ve never thought we would face, especially here in Orange County. I think that what we do here in Orange County of being proactive and collaborating can serve as a model for the rest of the nation.”

Other speakers included representatives from Orange Police, Anaheim Police, the Orange County Sheriffs Department and the Orange County Health Care Agency.

Audience members had a chance to ask questions of the speakers, including one about arming teachers to offer another line of defense.

Current state law prohibits guns from being stored or carried on any public school campus. The only personnel allowed to carry firearms on school grounds are sworn law enforcement officers, according to the law.

Mirajes said that “fundamentally, teachers I’ve talked with are against guns in the classrooms. But there are some exceptions, of course”

Other audience members asked about how students or parents can submit anonymous tips about suspected students or others who could potentially be a threat.

Law enforcement officials said principals, school resource officers and other leaders on campus would always welcome anonymous tips. Some police agencies are even developing smartphone apps students can use to submit anonymous tips.

“We are fortunate to have very dedicated school leaders and law enforcement to help keep our children safe,” Mijares said. “But this is an effort that will involve all of us. Please be our eyes and ears. And please get this message out to others too.”