By Gabriel Arizon and Nick Martinez
San Fernando Valley Sun/el Sol
The 2021-22 school term is nearly over. But, parents everywhere are apprehensive about leaving their children at school and are rethinking about them returning to summer or fall classes. The pandemic previously gave them pause, but now the most recent horror — the brutal slaying of 19 children and two teachers by a single gunman (later killed by police) at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas cannot be easily ignored.
And parents in the San Fernando Valley and elsewhere are expressing a need for much more than the typical response of “prayers and thoughts,” for the victims and their families. Official statements like those from Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Superintendent Alberto M. Carvahlo and district Board President Kelly Gonez, who said in a joint statement, “As a nation, we must continue to speak up against gun violence. We have a moral and professional collective obligation of ensuring a perimeter of inviolable safety around schools. Enough is enough,” are words that don’t feel reassuring enough for parents who, at the front of their minds, are aware that they could be taking a risk when they drop their children off at school.
Stephanie G., isn’t convinced that [San Fernando Elementary] school is “100 percent safe.” She said that school staff should have more training on securing classrooms and surveilling the school surroundings, as well as having better communication with police.
When asked if she was considering online learning or homeschooling for her son, Stephanie said, “It’s difficult for me as a single parent. If it was within my power, I would do it.”
Cynthia Hernandez, whose daughter also attends San Fernando Elementary School does express reluctance in bringing her child to campus in light of what happened in Texas, but said the child’s education comes first.
Hernandez said she is hopeful that nothing occurs between now and when the school term ends on June 10. In the event something does occur, Hernandez is counting on the school staff to do whatever it can to keep students out of harm’s way.
“I hope the staff does protect them because they’re babies,” Hernandez said.
Diana J., who has one daughter, feels San Fernando Elementary is in a safe area even if she herself feels a degree of uncertainty.
“Everyone here is looking out for each other,” Diana said. “I’m not too concerned.” Diana also thinks there is some room for improvement for the school to protect the students, including her two daughters, such as installing a camera system and locking the front door.
Teachers and administrators are equally concerned. There have been a myriad of opinions about how to make schools safer.
“I think the [political] extremes are hurting our country on so many issues like this school safety thing and gun control,” said Scotty Stewart, a history teacher at San Fernando Middle School.
“You know, I’m for people having a gun. In general, why can’t you [people] take classes to show that you can operate one properly?”
A school administrator at San Fernando Elementary School gave a brief comment to the San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol, saying, “our doors are locked and we follow all [LAUSD] safety protocols.
Apprehension Felt Around the Valley
Parents in the City of San Fernando aren’t the only ones on edge.
Elida Wiedrich, the parent of a fourth-grader at Hart Street Elementary in Canoga Park, said there is more that schools could be doing to help students be prepared for emergency situations on the campus.
“They do go over the drills and stuff. But I think they should also have posters and stuff,” Wiedrich said. “And it’s sad to say as a parent, because I know they have posters for what you need to do for a fire drill and what you need to do for an earthquake. But they don’t have posters on what you need to do if somebody has a weapon or a gun.
“I [also] think we need to have more officers patrolling the schools. [The kids] shouldn’t feel like, ‘Oh my God, I’m not safe going to school.’”
Mariam Johns is a day care owner and has two children who attend Portola Middle School in Tarzana. She said she is “afraid” to have my kids in public school right now.
“They were homeschooled during the pandemic. And I’m thinking about doing that again,” Johns said.
She echoed the sentiments of Wiedrich of wanting to see “more professionals, like a cop or somebody” visibly guarding campuses “because kids and teachers do not know how to handle this.”
“The safety of the school depends on the safety of the entrance, and they need to address that. That, in itself, is the biggest issue,” Johns said.
Diana Martinez and Mike Terry contributed to this story.