Protecting children in Ahwatukee schools from the violence that has become all too common in the United States was on the minds of both Tempe Union and Kyrene district officials last week at two separate discussions.
But while Phoenix Police at one session showed the training they can make available to teachers and other staff, the commander for the precinct that includes Ahwatukee said he doesn’t have the manpower to put uniformed officers in Ahwatukee’s three middle schools.
Although high schools usually are the sites of shootings that result in injury or death, the most recent of the 23 school shootings that have occurred so far this year came on May 25 in a Noblesville, Indiana, middle school. Three students were injured, and though a school resource officer was present, it was a teacher who disarmed the shooter.
And as Sgt. Sonny Hudson of the Phoenix Police Academy told a group of school administrators at a meeting organized by city Councilman Sal DiCiccio, middle schools have not been immune from even more horrific incidents, such as the 1998 shooting at a Jonesboro, Arkansas, middle school where two boys triggered a fire alarm, then picked off students and staff as they fled the building. Four girls and a teacher were killed and 10 others wounded.
Hudson told the group that police are now mapping buildings and storing the information so that in the event of an active shooter, responding officers will have a clear idea of the layout and figure ways to isolate and apprehend the assailant.
DiCiccio’s meeting drew Tempe Union representatives – including John Meza, a former Mesa police chief who has headed district security operations, and former Mountain Pointe High School Principal Bruce Kipper – as well as Kyrene Superintendent Jan Vesely and Betsy Fera.
“I think it’s critical we do this,” DiCiccio told the group, adding that Phoenix Police will perform a safety assessment of any school building for any district in the city that requests it.
Meanwhile, the Tempe Union governing board tonight, June 20, is scheduled to vote on $188,000 worth of security upgrades at Mountain Pointe.
According to the agenda for the 7 p.m. meeting, those upgrades include the reception desk, doors, frames, hardware, tile package, aluminum, glass, glazing, window shades and curtains, signage package, as well as systems covering fire sprinklers, HVAC, electrical infrastructure, fire alarms and security/access controls.
South Mountain Precinct Commander Jim Gallagher told DiCiccio’s gathering that while he has SROs in both Mountain Pointe and Desert Vista high schools, “I don’t have the manpower to put anyone in the middle schools.”
He reiterated that point at a subsequent public town hall on security in Kyrene schools held by Vesely and Ahwatukee CPA Scott Weinberg later in the week. Weinberg has two children in Kyrene schools, including a daughter who will enter middle school this fall. He has been lobbying for more security, forming a group called Secure Our Schools AZ, which can be found on Facebook.
Vesely explained that Kyrene is not among the handful of districts statewide that share in a federal grant, administered by the state Department of Education, that provides SROs.
Only the two Kyrene middle schools in Chandler have them.
Gallagher said he is in the process of “reimagining” the role of SROs. After the meeting, he told AFN that he is still formulating their new role, but said he envisions them spending more time patrolling schools rather than conducting classes on the law and citizenship.
“School safety is a shared responsibility,” Gallagher told the two dozen or so parents who attended the Kyrene meeting. “The key thing is parents. If you hear something, tell us about it.”
Kyrene officials also ticked off the various improvements that have been made to the district’s 25 schools – largely because a bond issue in 2005 specifically allocated a portion of the money for security enhancements that included the installation of controlled front lobbies.
They also detailed the elaborate set of alarms and security cameras throughout all schools, stating that Kyrene’s elementary schools each have 40 to 60 cameras while middle schools have between 80 and 120.
Though neither meeting produced any concrete plan, DiCiccio said he was glad to have started a discussion of school safety in Phoenix and that his office would be mulling further steps.
While Vesely said, “We’re trying to get SROs in the middle schools,” she told parents that the district itself cannot afford them.”
However, she added that she was impressed with the Hudson’s presentation at DiCiccio’s meeting and hoped to have Phoenix police conduct some training for teachers and staff.