Public Hearings on School Safety to be Held

Nikolas Cruz, the gunman accused of killing students and a coach at a Parkland, Fla. high school on Valentine’s Day, was formally charged with 17 counts of first-degree murder, and 17 counts of attempted murder on Wednesday, March 7.

Cruz could receive the death penalty if convicted. His public defender has said Cruz would plead guilty if prosecutors take the death penalty off the table and instead seek a life prison sentence.

In the recent aftermath of several incidents of guns on school grounds from Florida to California, the hot-button question — again — is what can be done to lessen the potential of tragedy involving students and those who work there.

But some local elected officials are, at least publicly, trying to to take some steps toward addressing the problem.

LA City Attorney Mike Feuer has announced the formation of the Los Angeles School Safety Blue Ribbon Panel, which will hold a series of public hearings in the spring, and issue a report this summer that will offer recommendations on additional steps to keep kids safe in L.A. schools.

“Nothing is more important than keeping our kids safe and secure,” said Feuer, co-chair of Prosecutors Against Gun Violence, in a release announcing the panel this week.

“Now is the time to take a fresh, focused look at how we are doing and how can we do it better. This panel will hear from all our stakeholders—including students, parents, teachers, administrators—along with experts in a variety of fields, to fashion recommendations to improve safety on campus and in surrounding neighborhoods.”

Among the Panel’s members are former Los Angeles City Controller Laura Chick, former state Supreme Court Justice Carlos Moreno, Drew School of Medicine Dean and Professor Dr. Deborah Prothrow-Stith, and Gloria Martinez, elementary vice-president of United Teachers Los Angeles.

Feuer  said the panel would hold hearings throughout Los Angeles, in conjunction with LAUSD board members.  Some of the topics for discussion  include:

· Safe storage of firearms

·Improved public reporting systems of suspicious persons

·Heightened campus security

·Increased mental health resources for students

·      Improved safety for students traveling back and forth from home to campus

In addition to hearing from parents, teachers, administrators, students and community members the panel will receive testimony from a variety of areas including public safety, education, mental health and business.

Los Angeles Unified School District interim Superintendent Vivian Ekchian in a released statement, said the safety of LAUSD students and the city of Los Angeles “go hand in hand” and while “we cannot determine in advance where or when an unsafe situation may arise, I encourage everyone — the district, the city, the county, civic organizations and other stakeholders — to continue to work together so that students and families are safe both on campus and in their community.”

One of the controversial suggestions has been to arm teachers and administrators to help ward off those who come into a school bent on causing destruction and mayhem.

That idea may have a hard time winning over large numbers of Californians.

 Luis Roca, who works in Sylmar, has three school-aged children. He said in light of the recent gun incidents like those that have occurred in Parkland, Fla. and  South Whittier, he’s not as confident in the security at the schools as he once was.

But arming teachers?

“I don’t like that,” Roca told the San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol. “There are ways to make this world better. “

Demetrius Atkins’ child is not yet of school age, but he was emphatically opposed to teachers having guns. “Because sooner or later, a teacher would kill a little black child. Only because I know America is so racist, sooner or later they would start killing black kids.”

Sandra Wilson, who lives in San Fernando, has children who attend magnet schools and private schools. She said often after a [deadly] event, “We notice more of a LAPD presence, driving around the school. But that only lasts a couple of weeks, then it goes back to normal.

“We have received letters from school saying the kids are safe…that’s about it. But I have not seen anything that has changed.”

But she, too, opposes arming instructors and administrators. 

“I wouldn’t feel comfortable with that,” Wilson said. “Teachers are humans, too, and could snap as well. I saw a story where a teacher was barricaded in a classroom with a gun.”

Students also want to have a voice in the local and national debates regarding safer campuses.

Students across the country are being asked to participate in the National Student Walkout on March 14 organized by the Women’s March Youth EMPOWER. They are being asked to leave their classrooms for 17 minutes — one minute for each shooting victim at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. on Feb. 14. One purpose for the protest is to try and further prod legislators in to passing more gun control laws.

There are schools like Granada Hills Charter that have threatened students with being truant it they take part in a protest off campus, although school officials also said they were planning “alternative” activities for students.

None of the high school principals at Kennedy, San Fernando or Sylmar  would comment or respond to the  San Fernando Valley Sun’s effort to get information regarding any response to student walkouts on March 14.

LAUSD issued a statement that students could participate in “peaceful dialogue and activities on campus during non-instructional periods,” but that it discouraged students to leave the campus.

Wilson, for one, thinks the schools should allow students to protest on or off campus in a controlled area.

“I think all the schools should support this and give students a chance for their voices to be heard,” she said “I think the kids [will protest] anyway. So if the schools don’t control it, it could be crazy.”