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CAMPUS SAFETY

Situation: Campus safety has become a central concern for most private schools, especially as it relates to school shootings. School shootings have resulted in the deaths of children, teachers and school staff, and have sadly become an increased concern throughout our nation. While the probability of any individual school being impacted is very low, when it does occur, the potential for catastrophic loss of life is high. As a school, we recognize that we cannot make decisions out of fear; nor can we ignore it out of a desire to avoid conflict. In the past 18 months, the leadership of the One Ascension community have made security a major priority on this campus. Many of the security measures listed below have been improved or initiated in the past year. Thank you to the School Board, Church Council, the Pastoral Staff and Ascension Foundation for partnering on this important work.  It has been a true One Ascension effort.

Security Improvements include:

  • Shatter-resistant window film installation is complete on all windows per the board’s authorization. While not “bullet-proof” this improvement dramatically slows entry of a would-be assailant, giving valuable time to staff and children to find safety. The parent community and staff are overwhelmingly thankful for this security measure. 
  • We have a referral for a social media monitoring company. Rich will seek a few other bids this summer per the board’s approval at the April meeting.
  • A motorized gate that prevents cars from accessing the campus through our sole exit point
  • Locked gates throughout the day preventing cars from accessing the entry point to the back lot
  • A comprehensive security assessment that highlighted our strengths & weaknesses on campus

 

In Addition to the above security improvements, the decision to contract a security company to provide a concealed-carry armed security detail on campus has been approved by the School Board and Church Council. While we look to move at a deliberate pace, this has not been a rushed or hasty process.  We have sought the wisdom of experts in the field.  We have worked to be transparent in our decision-making and intentional about engaging in dialogue with stakeholders within our community on an ongoing basis. 

This is how that decision was made:

Background: Although there is no clear explanation as to why this is the case, there has been an exponential rise in gun violence against young people in the last few decades (post Columbine). Gun violence is now the leading cause of loss of life for our children. While school shootings do not comprise or explain the totality of this phenomenon, they are a large part of the problem. Here are just a few of the relevant statistics:

  • There have been 160 mass shootings in the U.S. this year (As of May, 2023 - click here to view)

  • These events have increased dramatically in the last 3 years, in which there are an average of 2 mass shooting events per day. A mass shooting is an event in which there are 4 or more casualties. There are, on average, 600 mass shootings per year for the last 3 years. (click here for article)

  • The Public Policy Institute of California reports that through 2022, there was a mass shooting in California every 8.3 days, which falls below the national average, but is still a concerning number. (click here for article)

  • According to a report at NPR, “In 2023, the K-12 database has recorded 89 gun-related incidents at a school so far, nearly one for every day this year”. (Click here for article)

  • While statistically, the risk at any one school is low on any given day, the same article reports that 2022 saw more school shootings than any year since 1999, and that parents perceive the risk of gun violence at school to be unacceptably high. One expert in the field summed up the issue with great clarity, "I used to say mass shootings are rare, school shootings are rare," Peterson said. "But it's hard to keep saying that, you know, even though statistically they are, it's getting harder to convince parents of that." (Click here for article)

  •  A comprehensive approach to security can lower the likelihood of an armed assailant making it onto the campus.

  •  Statistically, the amount of time it takes the perpetrator to gain access to large amounts of people and the armed response time are vital factors in preventing death and injury once an armed person who intends violence is on campus.

Ascension-Specific Factors:

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  •  In particular, the Borderline shooting several years ago, the Covenant School shooting in March, and the incident in Westlake just a few weeks ago have prompted our parent community to reach out and overwhelmingly request additional security measures for our school. Of these conversations, an armed guard is the most frequently requested security measure.

  • We have had at least 3 incidents in the last 12 months where the potential for violence could have put Jeff, Cam, or any of our leaders at risk. While these incidents did not involve a gun, there have been gun violence threats at other schools within the Conejo Valley.

  •  We love our community, and none of the above have specific training nor the bandwidth to effectively deal with all of the security issues that currently present themselves at our schools. Just last week an individual behaving erratically in front of the church demanded over an hour of our time from Jeff, Cam, Jenni, Mike Marvin, and Rich. A trained security person could deescalate these situations and limit the risk of harm to our staff should a situation arise.

  • Campus security has been the number one issue for several families on tours in recent months.

Assessment:  A Comprehensive Approach: The presence of an armed guard is only a component (though an important one) of a multi-layered and comprehensive approach to security. This sentiment was echoed by almost every expert we consulted. Armed security is not a one and done approach, and after a recent assessment on the campus’s security, several other improvements are in the works or will be tackled over the next several years. Including:

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  • Robust fencing

  • Improved locking mechanisms

  • Cameras at every gate

  • A wireless camera network that covers the entire campus that is viewable by multiple staff in real time

  • Frequent checks of exterior doors (making sure nothing is propped open or unsecure)

  • Mandatory check in at the front office for all visitors and stickers identifying them

  • Radios in most rooms across the entire campus

  • Improvement in the quality of our radios including purchasing our own dedicated frequency and new batteries

  • Monthly drills

  • Frequent upgrades of emergency procedures with experts in the field

  • Frequent education and communication with our parent community regarding their role in an emergency (including the request to have those procedures printed and in their glove box)

Recommendation: The school has taken a comprehensive approach to school security to limit access, delay entry, and respond rapidly if the unthinkable were to happen at Ascension.  Part of this comprehensive response includes hiring a reputable and licensed company to provide a highly trained concealed-carry armed security detail to be on campus throughout most of the year.

We recognize that it is a sensitive issue, with many people having strong beliefs about guns in general (on all sides of the issue).  In all the many conversations that board members have undertaken as part of our due diligence on the question of an armed guard on campus, the universal reaction of all involved is that it is incredibly sad that we must contemplate such measures to protect the innocent. Recognizing the potential for division, we have proceeded with a bias towards hearing as many voices as possible as we have sought wisdom in this decision. 

Through our due diligence we have learned many important considerations in the logistics of having an armed guard on campus, but I especially wanted to highlight the following to our school families:

 We would only entertain a security firm which allows interviewing of security staff by school personnel to assess the right fit for our community.

We would be looking for the following:

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  • Former law enforcement or ex-military

  • Comfortable and welcoming to children

  • Stellar interpersonal skills

  • Formal training in de-escalation tactics

  • Warm “soft skills” to become known as a member of our community

  • Articulate and professional in personal interactions

  • This individual would not be used as a frontline member of the team to handle student or teacher conflicts, but could provide training to staff personnel on de-escalation tactics

Culture Fit and Campus Atmosphere:

We have put a great deal of thought into how adding a security agent on campus would affect the culture of the school. We will be highly selective in the company we choose and the specific agents we welcome on to our campus so that they become members of our community. Our choice to go with a plain-clothes, concealed-carry guard reflects our desire for our students’ daily activities and the culture of our campus to remain undisrupted as there will be no overt display of a firearm being present (although we will continually update our website to reflect how seriously we take campus security). This was also consistent with the recommendations made by an expert security consultant who toured our campus last month.

Questions: Throughout April and May Jenni and I have engaged in a listening campaign to hear from the school’s many stakeholders (teachers and school staff, parents, school board, church council & church staff). We have heard from individuals on all sides of the issue and want to assure our families that our doors continue to remain open throughout the summer to anyone who wants to discuss this issue. Our goal is to have a concealed-carry armed security detail in place at the start of the coming school year in the fall.

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