Hillsdale High incident underscores how important school safety is

September 23, 2009 — by Christine Tseng

A former student goes back to visit his school, bringing along 10 pipe bombs, a chain saw and a sword. It sounds like a scene out of a horror movie, but that’s exactly what happened at Hillsdale High School in San Mateo last month. In the end, it took several teachers to tackle him and bring him under control.

Perhaps it’s time for people to start asking questions about the safety of their own campuses. Every school has safety measures and drills, but when a real situation occurs so close by, schools should reconsider and re-examine their own campuses.

Saratoga High is a fairly open campus, and just about anyone can go in and out at any time of the day. Community members can be seen running on the track throughout the day and using athletic facilities. The school gates aren’t closed until late at night, and there aren’t any police, let alone the metal detectors, that many schools have adopted. Students are trusted not to bring in dangerous weapons, and should be.

If, however, a situation like the one at Hillsdale were to repeat itself here, would the school be prepared? Unfortunately, because of the low degree of security at SHS, students would most likely notice the situation only after spotting blood or hearing hearing bomb explosions. There are so many parents and others on campus all the time that students don’t think of a stranger on campus as anything out of the ordinary.

Even at Redwood, for those who remember, parents who came in had to sign in and wear a visitor sticker to identify themselves and then sign out again. This way the office could check who had been on campus at a specific time. Saratoga High appears not to be as vigilant with signin and signout sheets, even though visitors here should technically be checking in.

All these voids in campus security suggest that a more cautious approach is needed. It would be advisable to have a specific time when community members can visit the school, or to make sure the gates are monitored during class hours. Students do not need to leave the school during class hours anyway and it prevents unwanted people from entering. Also, if you close the gates during class, it gives students more privacy on the school grounds and lets them remain more focused on school instead of thinking about after-school activities.

We already have two campus supervisors, Jeanine Sevilla and Mark Hernandez, but the school is just too big for them to catch everything. Even if one person patrolled the front and one the back, someone could come in once one of them went around a corner.

To fix this, only one entrance to the school should be open at a time, and have one of the supervisors check ID when students and community members enter or leave. This way, there is a record of persons on campus. Attendance is also made easier because once a student checks in, the school will know that they are present, and the student cannot leave without passing a supervisor again. Without a supervisor in front, just about anyone can enter the school unnoticed, making the campus not much safer than a shopping center or any public place.

Even though some of these measures might sound extreme and could be costly, they are needed if the school is to remain safe. People cannot simply wait for the next Hillsdale to happen before they act.

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