The shooting in Uvalde, Texas that killed 19 students and two teachers has picked at old wounds wrought by gun violence in San Francisco—shootings that, even if they didn’t take place on campus, had a ripple effect on families and stoked fears about children’s safety.
At a City Hall vigil for recent mass-shooting victims, including 10 Black grocery shoppers in Buffalo, Cassondra Curiel, United Educators of San Francisco president, recounted noticing a former student who experienced post-traumatic stress upon returning to class after her leg was grazed by a bullet two blocks from school at age 11.
“She’s afraid of people coming near her, someone put her backpack down near her, and she just started panicking,” Curiel said Tuesday. “It’s not part of our textbooks, it’s not part of our training but you jump into action and you do things.”
Some parents have started asking about individual school safety plans, which district spokesperson Laura Dudnick said are intentionally not public to protect school safety. They generally include conducting safety drills, an emergency supplies list, and evacuation and reunification procedures.
“Now parents are thinking about it,” said Meredith Dodson, San Francisco Parent Action Coalition executive director. “It also feels like there’s no plan that would really keep our kids safe without those stricter measures to keep guns out of hands that shouldn’t have them.”
San Francisco Unified School District has a comprehensive school safety plan, while schools have individual plans specific to their campus and staff, which must be submitted each year and shared with the police. Those plans activate for several urgent matters, like a gun threat or suspect nearby—or a fire alarm going off from Lowell High School students vaping in the bathroom, as a paraeducator Tom Harriman recalled on Tuesday.
There are typically four types of responses schools must be prepared for, said Michael Essien, United Administrators of San Francisco president and principal at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Academic Middle School. There’s lockdown, for when someone may be on campus and students get into the nearest room out of sight from the windows; lockout, to secure the campus perimeter so no suspect enters the campus from nearby; shelter-in-place for things like severe weather events; and evacuation to leave a potential threat on campus immediately.
At Essien’s school, drills are done once a year, but equipment checks are “an area of growth.” One entrance to the campus was exposed until an incident about four years ago when someone with a knife was nearby, which triggered a lockdown and eventually, the maintenance team secured the opening.
“That was a huge issue and a huge concern for a long time,” Essien said. “Students know the drills, they’ve been through the training, there’s things hung up in classrooms. We don’t necessarily send the plan to the parents.”
Last week, parents asked about security cameras, locks, and other equipment matters that vary from school to school at a Parent Action Coalition forum on student safety and health. Board of Education Commissioner Lainie Motamedi told the Standard that she requested an overview of upgrades needed, which will likely be presented at a future meeting.
Last Friday, San Francisco Unified School District announced that students at 40 middle and high schools will be trained in the fall to use an anonymous reporting system designed by the Sandy Hook Promise Foundation.
Students can send reports to the National Crisis Center if they are concerned for a peer who needs attention or is potentially violent, and report sexual harassment, self-harm, bullying, abuse and depression.
That effort acknowledges that guns aren’t the only threat. Concerns over personal safety around bullying and harassment often dominate, parent organizers said. During the past school year, students have risen up against sexual harassment and assault while Everett Middle School sought help for escalating chaos from students adjusting back to in-person learning. Asian American families fear targeted racist harassment that exploded since the pandemic and was fostered by politicians during the Trump era.
Of course, the days after mass shootings heighten the fear for some parents taking their children to school the next day.
“Just dropping your kid off in our schools in this day and age, in this country, takes such a leap of faith,” said Michelle Jacques-Menegaz, executive director of the San Francisco Parent Advisory Council. “It’s all the other stuff we can’t control. We’ve been fortunate in this city where we don’t have a lot of school violence at that level, but it doesn’t mean kiddos aren’t being harmed.”
Ida Mojadad can be reached at [email protected]