Golf club incident raises safety questions at high school
By Emmaline Voorheis and Jessica Cole at Paso Robles High School
Students, teachers, and policies grapple with safety, privacy, and procedure
–An unauthorized man swinging a large golf club driver entered the William’s Wing in the 100 building on Wednesday, Feb. 24 during first period, his surprise visit involved a teacher escort to the office and police transportation off campus. No notifications to teachers, students, or parents followed the incident.
Yet this event, and two others involving student threats during this school year, has raised a general feeling that notifications could improve the school’s communication about potential threats to students, teachers, and parents. Concerns are high in an era of worldwide campus attacks about PRHS security patrols, teacher actions, and the readiness of students to respond to and communicate about possible dangers.
The man with the golf club walked the downstairs halls un-confronted for an unknown time period, looking into four classes while swinging his club, poking his head through doorways and talking at times to students in desks near the doors. After the man had reached AP Macroeconomics, teacher Matt Drake escorted the man to the office, where he was later guided off campus by the police.
“He was tall and he didn’t have a visitor’s pass, and he didn’t look like he belonged…” Social Studies Chair Geof Land said. The man did not enter any classrooms, except for the computer lab where Psychology and Peer teacher Jenny Martinez was teaching.
Witnesses stated the man said, “I’m here to see the nice children of Paso Robles High School.” And then after Mrs. Martinez confronted him, he said ‘I’m looking for the trophy case.’”
Prior to Drake’s intervention, Martinez called the office on her wall phone, though she used non emergency numbers that did not alert security.
“I believe they have updated the phone list in the computer lab so this doesn’t happen again.” Martinez said.
Students in every class who spotted the visitor hesitated to immediately alert teachers. “My students didn’t say anything. They should have said ‘Mr. Land, there’s a man that didn’t look like he belonged. He’s got a golf club.’ I would have immediately gone up and talked to him. But they didn’t say anything,” Land said.
Administration stated the school’s safety system relies on the eyes and ears of teachers and students.
After the incident, an administrator announced the man’s visit and reassured department chairs in a closed meeting that a plan was in place to patrol the campus.
Many procedures monitor safety on campus. The daily security system, involving several adults with radios, is nicknamed the “raptor system.” This system starts with the closing of bus road gates, guards placed at the only open gate in the front of the school, and patrols of designated zones of campus. Generally one person in the security team is assigned a wing or building. Security radios and constant communication occurs throughout the day. All visitors are expected to be identified and screened at the front desk with their personal ID, driver’s license, or any form of acceptable ID.
Two other incidents have also brought up questions about the importance of teacher knowledge of student’s previous behavior. Teachers and students interviewed said they generally feel less notified than they prefer.
California Education Code 32282 requires a school district to “inform the teacher of each pupil who has engaged in, or is reasonably suspected to have engaged in attempts or threats to cause physical injury, to use of force, to possess a weapon, or to use or be under the influence of controlled substances.” This mandate includes harassment, threats, or intimidation directed at school district personnel or students.
PRHS policy so far uses a brief Safe Schools Act, or SSA notification on the Aeries attendance list to notify teachers of incidents. The system requires that teachers take note of the small SSA flags, if there are any, on their attendance lists, and, in a separate step, to search the students’ name to find their history and the reason for the flag.
Teachers interviewed state that Aeries is not sufficient notification and places the burden on the teacher to inquire about potentially violent students.
“As much as I respect the work security staff at PRHS are doing, the SSA notification system in place fails to honor the intent of state law, which clearly says that schools have a responsibility to notify teachers about students who may pose a threat to school communities,” Land said.
However, administrators have explained a balance that is needed in an educational setting. Some students with safety incidents should be allowed to move on from their past mistakes without letting an SSA flag define teacher perception of them.
The administration emphasized these are rare incidents and that PRHS is a safe and monitored campus.
Students emphasized that they want to be informed about safety incidents more often.