The following feature article was written cooperatively by the following students:
On April 24, 2013, 18-year-old Kevin Orellano was murdered by two confirmed gang members, 19-year-old Michael Steven Carpio and his 16-year-old brother. The two suspects reportedly stabbed Orellano in daylight after an altercation on the handball courts of Cleveland High School (CHS) in Reseda. Orellano was pronounced dead the next day.
To serve their function of preparing students for the adult world, schools must be safe so that students can learn without being encumbered by fear or discomfort within their environments. So, just how much are local schools doing to ensure school safety?
Schools are in High-Crime Areas
According to a survey by the Institute of Education Sciences, since 2009 there has been a growing percentage of students from ages 12 through 18 who are afraid of attack or harm at school.
Although experts have been speaking positively about the decreasing school violence rates in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), studies done by StopTheShootings.org show that among its recorded 387 schools in the United States, California has comparatively the most number of school shootings and student deaths. California has had 69 shootings since 1962, leaving 86 students dead.
Los Angeles has some of the highest crime rates in the US, and schools are not excluded from the threat of being in areas of concentrated crime.
As a whole, according to the Neighborhoodscout research organization, the city earns a 28 out of 100 on its crime index, with 100 being the safest score.
Each School Has Its Own Measures
Within the city, each school has its own set of security measures and enforcement codes. Overall, the Los Angeles School Police Department (LASPD) is the largest independent police department in the United States.
The School Survey on Crime and Safety found that most schools in LA have common regulations of cell phone and text messaging devices, controlled access during school hours, random sweeps for weapons and illegal substances, metal detectors, and security cameras.
Security measures have specifically risen after both the incident at Sandy Hook Elementary School last December in Connecticut and President Obama’s 2012 call to new and improved emergency procedures in schools. Specifically, school safety officials have been receiving new training in response to recent shooting patterns. LAUSD has additionally increased the number of campus security aides recently, adding 1,000 new positions.
Yet safer school zones are distinguished from school zones more prone to crime are not only because of environment and demographic but because of each school’s enforcement of school safety.
Students Share Their Experiences
After the Cleveland murder incident, some students noticed a difference in the school’s security measures.
“I feel like [the murder] could’ve happened anywhere,” said CHS junior Lauryn Lee. “But, security definitely has gotten much stricter ever since that incident.”
Indeed, after the incident, CHS has tightened its control on who can come in and out of the campus. It has also been keener on school hours and gates control.
However, students still do not feel completely safe in their environment.
“I feel like school security definitely has been kicked up a notch. Not everyone can just walk on campus or leave campus as easily as they used to,” said junior at CHS Cathy Kim. “However, I don’t always feel safe on campus, but I guess that’s just the neighborhood that Cleveland is in.”
Indeed, according to AreaVibes, a website that assigns “liveability scores” to communities, Reseda’s crime index is 22% higher than the Los Angeles average. Additionally, citizens of Reseda have a one in 30 chance of being crime victims.
In an online questionnaire by JSR, seventy-one percent of students surveyed at Cleveland High said they felt either ‘Unsafe’ or only ‘Somewhat safe’ at school. The questionnaire provided the following answer choices: very safe, safe, somewhat safe, and unsafe.
“On campus, I feel like I’m walking around the city. Anything could happen,” said another junior at CHS, Tyler Diggs. “I don’t feel safe, but I don’t feel unsafe.”
Yet students at nearby schools have reported feeling more protected.
“Police roam around the campus in order to oversee student activities. Also the deans help out with the disciplinary aspect of the residential program,” said Edgar Cano, a sophomore at Van Nuys High School (VNHS), in response to questions about school safety measures. “You can always tell a teacher about anything unsafe and they can take measures,” he added.
Students at VNHS have testified for the need for students to know what to do in emergencies and to feel confident in their school system. Accordingly, among a group of 20 students at VNHS, most students had been taught procedures about how to act in certain situations.
Though another LAUSD school, Granada Hills Charter High School (GHCHS), has not seen any murder cases in the past years, the school constantly employs progressive security measures.
“Granada has a reputation of safety,” said Executive Director at GHCHS Brian Bauer in an interview with JSR. “We promote various measures in ensuring the safety of our students, ranging from check-in security systems, ID scans, security cameras, on-campus security guards, and regular disaster and intruder drills.”
In an interview with JSR, security officers at GHCHS emphasized the importance of understanding the students and encouraging change starting from the individual.
“Granada is very safe compared to other schools,” said Senior Officer Avalos. “Granada has the ability to implement safety precautions and behavior rules, but the student culture definitely plays a large role.”
School Safety Is an Obligation
Failure to tend to fundamental school safety obligations can have a detrimental impact on the community. Additionally, unsafe school vicinities go against the fundamental right to personal safety.
Indeed, because school attendance is compulsory in the United States, it is almost of an unquestionable and undeniable necessity for students to feel safe in school. Not all children in the world have the privilege of receiving free education; however, school violence undermines this privilege.
When schools do not prioritize school safety as one of the most demanding aspects of a well-functioning school, the potential repercussions may negate the purpose of school, which is to act as a welcoming environment for the growth of its students.
“School safety is about having a safe learning environment. If students don’t feel safe, they can’t learn. It’s as simple as that,” said GHCHS Security and Events Manager Mike Panman.