MARTINEZ -- A month after the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary, the Martinez school district is implementing new security measures including locked classrooms and mandatory sign-in for campus visitors.
District administrators met with Martinez police earlier this week to review existing safety practices at the district's four elementary schools, junior high school, high school and the alternative campus. The group identified immediate changes as well as long-term strategies to improve safety and security for students and staff.
Effective immediately, all classroom doors will remain locked during school hours, except for libraries, computer labs and common areas. Superintendent Rami Muth said most teachers already lock their classroom doors, but the new policy is intended to ensure consistency across the district.
"We fully recognize that a locked door isn't going to prevent violence, but it will slow someone down," Muth said. "It's a deterrent in much the same way security cameras are a deterrent."
All visitors will be required to sign-in at the office and wear a badge while they are on campus. Although this has been district policy for some time, Muth said staff enforced it sporadically. From now on, school employees will direct people without a visitor's badge to the office.
"Is it going to stop anybody? No. But it's going to help identify anybody who shouldn't be on campus," she said.
As an educator and a parent, Muth said she is deeply concerned about school safety, but she advocates a reasoned, appropriate response. She opposes the National Rifle Association's fledgling initiative to arm teachers and principals. Police Chief Gary Peterson also believes providing teachers guns isn't a practical solution given the extensive training they would need to become proficient with firearms.
Although Muth hopes Martinez police will reinstate the school resource officer, Peterson said it's unlikely that one officer who is responsible for all the district's schools would happen to be in the right place to stop an armed intruder. Police have beefed up patrols around the campuses and are exploring other ways to improve safety.
"Any one measure by itself probably won't have that much impact," Peterson said. "But together, implementing multiple layers of security and safety and making sure that people are aware of their surroundings and who's on campus, that's the key."
In the next two weeks, district staff and police will conduct lockdown drills at every campus during which students will be expected to take cover under desks or huddle together in a corner away from windows, stay quiet, leave the doors closed and follow teachers' instructions. Posters outlining the procedures students and teachers should take in the event an armed intruder is on campus will be posted in every classroom.
Additional strategies include reviewing school safety plans, training staff, installing security cameras and door locks, and replacing window coverings. In the fall, every district employee will wear a photo ID badge.
In addition to these safety measures, the district also will select an anti-bullying curriculum and seek to identify students showing signs of emotional distress and get them counseling.
"For me, it's not about arming people, it's not about making our schools an armed fortress," Muth said. "It's about creating a physical and emotional environment that speaks to safety."
Lisa P. White covers Martinez and Pleasant Hill. Contact her at 925-943-8011. Follow her at Twitter.com/lisa_p_white.