After Uvalde, how safe are schools in Riverside and San Bernardino counties? – San Bernardino Sun


The policing of America’s schools was based on a simple promise: They will protect the children.

But on May 24, a gunman entered Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, and opened fire, killing 19 children and two adults and wounding 17 more people. And for 74 minutes, hundreds of police officers waited outside the school, not moving in.

The deaths are not simply the result of a failed emergency response by the Uvalde school police department, according to a Texas House of Representatives special investigative committee’s interim report. They’re the result a systemic failure at the local, county, state and federal level to protect the children of Robb Elementary.

Video released before the committee issued its report was edited to remove the sound of children screaming in terror and pain. The video shows police outside the classroom where the gunman was located, not trying the unlocked door into the room, not organizing a counter-assault, but looking at their cell phones and even using a school hand sanitizer station.

“It was heart-wrenching” watching what happened in Uvalde, said Rob McCoy, director of school safety at Chaffey Joint Union High School District.

“I was hoping to … find out they would have done what any law enforcement officer would have done,” said McCoy, who spent 24 years with the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department. “And then, as more came out, it became clear that just didn’t happen. It seems to me like the active shooter protocol didn’t occur. It seemed like the response collapsed on itself.”

Police and security have been an ever-more-common sight in and around public schools since the deaths of 12 students and a teacher in a 1999 mass shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado.

But the events in Uvalde have parents, educators and community members asking: Will police and school security protect the children when the time comes?

‘This just continues to happen’

The shooting in Uvalde was the final straw for San Bernardino mother Melissa Gonzalez.

“This just continues to happen, it’s not just a one-time thing,” she said. “It continues to happen.”

Now, Gonzalez said, she doesn’t trust school districts to keep her family safe.

“They can’t even handle bullying,” she said.

Both of her children, 17 and 13, are now enrolled in independent study through Colton Joint Unified School District. This year, her children will go to campus once a week to turn in assignments.

Colton resident Angelica Tapia and her husband Jose (not pictured) both work, so they don’t feel like they have any choice but to send their 6 year old daughter Natalie off to a school they are not sure is safe following the Uvalde shooting. Colton on Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2022. (Photo by Will Lester, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/SCNG)

Angelica Tapia, meanwhile, is preparing to send her 6-year-old daughter to school in Jurupa Valley on Monday, Aug. 8.

The Colton mother said the images coming out of Uvalde shortly before Memorial Day horrified her.

“I had no words. I was just in total shock, disbelief. Even though it didn’t happen to me, I just felt it, like they were my kids,” she said. “I think, as a parent, you just have this fear in the back of your mind.”

Tapia doesn’t feel like she has a choice when it comes to sending her daughter to campus for first grade.

“I wish a second option was available. I work, my husband works. It would be so nice to have a Plan B, but we have to face reality,” she said.

Tapia talked to her daughter about mass shootings, even though Natalie doesn’t understand why the conversation is important.

“I’m just like, mama, no, there are bad people in this world, so you just have to be knowledgeable about this,” Tapia said.

An Ontario mother of four, Tere Marquez teaches kindergarten in Montclair. She’s been an educator 20 years, and the specter of school shootings has hovered over her classroom every day.

“We walk in as teachers, making sure our doors are locked. I can protect my students once they’re in my classroom, but when they’re outside of it, it only takes one person not to lock a gate,” she said. “Once my students step outside, we have that worry as a teacher, as a mom: ‘Where are my students?’ I have to make sure they make it back to my classroom.”

In addition to instructing her students on letters, numbers, days of the week and classroom etiquette, Marquez has to teach 5-year-olds how to survive a mass shooting.

“I try to stay very calm, but you can see the fear in their faces,” she said of the active-shooter drills in her classroom. “It’s really sad. It’s devastating that we have to go through this.”

‘Our officers are going through that door’

Val Verde Unified School District school police officers stalked the halls of Rancho Verde High School in Moreno Valley. They passed bloody, wounded people calling for help in the hallways or sprawled in stairwells. The officers were looking for an active shooter on campus, which, on a normal day, educates more than 2,000 students.

A Val Verde Unified School District Police officer waits with Riverside County Sheriff deputies for an active shooter scenario training exercise to begin outside of Rancho Verde High School in Moreno Valley on July 21, 2022. The training was hosted by the Val Verde Unified School District Police with approximately 100 law enforcement members from a number of Inland Empire agencies taking part. (File photo by Will Lester, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/SCNG)
A Val Verde Unified School District Police officer waits with Riverside County Sheriff deputies for an active shooter scenario training exercise to begin outside of Rancho Verde High School in Moreno Valley on July 21, 2022. The training was hosted by the Val Verde Unified School District Police with approximately 100 law enforcement members from a number of Inland Empire agencies taking part. (File photo by Will Lester, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/SCNG)

On Thursday, July 21, 2022, this was just a drill. The district police force was conducting active shooter training for more than 100 first responders and 200 student and adult volunteers. The volunteers’ wounds were fake, the blood a mixture of corn syrup, chocolate syrup and red food coloring.

According to a 2020 University of Connecticut analysis, 58% of schools in 2018 had at least one sworn law-enforcement officer present on campus during the school week, up from 1% of schools in 1975. The federal government spent more than $1 billion between 1998 and 2018 to fund on-campus policing.

There are more than 1,000 public school districts in California. Twenty-one have their own police departments, according to POST, the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training, which oversees training for police departments in California.

Five of San Bernardino County’s 33 public school districts have a police department. Val Verde Unified is the only district in Riverside County with its own police department.

“It’s an unwritten rule in our department: ‘You will not wait, you will go in,’ and our officers, this is what they signed up for,” said Mark Clark, Val Verde’s police chief. “They signed up to work for a school police agency, so they understand the inherent risks with it.”

Clark said he and the district know that parents worry about the safety of their children, especially after Uvalde, where the first law-enforcement officers on the scene at Robb Elementary were members of the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District police department.

Other districts and law-enforcement officials echoed Clark’s comments.

“If there was such a situation that would happen on campus, our guys, one, two, three, four, however many are there, you go in and neutralize the threat,” said Todd Espindola, the chief of police at Snowline Joint Unified in San Bernardino County.

Kindergarten teacher Tere Marquez stands with classroom supplies in front of Buena Vista Arts Integrated School in Montclair on Friday, Aug. 5, 2022. (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)
Kindergarten teacher Tere Marquez stands with classroom supplies in front of Buena Vista Arts Integrated School in Montclair on Friday, Aug. 5, 2022. (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

Local school districts and law-enforcement agencies train, train, train, they say, so that officers won’t have to think about how to respond when seconds count.

“No one wants to have a school shooting. But it’s better to train for it,” said San Bernardino County sheriff’s Deputy Greg Jones, a community liaison who trains local school districts on how to deal with active shooters. “Whether we like it or not, we don’t know if this will ever stop.”

McCoy, the school safety director at Chaffey Joint Union, is going through the Uvalde investigative report with a highlighter, noting where first-responders there went wrong so he can train officers here to avoid the same mistakes.

Perimeter security at Chaffey campuses has been “ramped up” on campus in recent years, including reevaluating the use of keys and locks by staff, McCoy said.

More importantly, he trusts the training of the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, Ontario Police Department and Montclair Police Department — the three police agencies that respond to issues in the Chaffey Joint Union district.

“I’m convinced beyond any question that what we saw in Uvalde would not happen here,” McCoy said. “Our officers are going through that door.”

‘Our schools are safe’

California police officers and campuses have existing protocols to prevent many of the failures reported in Uvalde, officials say.

“In Uvalde, you had officers pull up on scene and then they waited for supervisors to give them direction,” said Steve Hinojos, chief of police at Hesperia Unified School District in San Bernardino County. “In California — and probably any POST-certified police department — the first officer on scene is the commander until they’re relieved by another commander.”



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