How could Riverside Unified bolster campus security?
November 2, 2017 | Administrator
It’s too soon to know whether Riverside Unified will change its security procedures after a parent held a teacher hostage for several hours at Castle View Elementary School on Tuesday.
“It is very early,” Riverside Unified school board vice-president Patricia Lock-Dawson wrote in an email Wednesday afternoon, after a day of “focusing on taking care of our families and planning for their return.”
Riverside Unified officials are not prepared to discuss any upgrades to campus security yet, district spokesman Justin Grayson said Wednesday.
“We will be reviewing the events in the days to come,” wrote Lock-Dawson, who represents District 2, where Castle View Elementary is located.
On Tuesday, Riverside parent Luvelle Kennon, 27, held Castle View teacher Linda Montgomery hostage for more than six hours before a police SWAT team entered the school and shot him. Kennon later died at Riverside Community Hospital.
Montgomery was hospitalized with minor injuries — “cuts and scrapes,” according to a relative — and was discharged Wednesday. Daughter Michelle Montgomery on Thursday said her mother is not ready to talk publicly about her ordeal, but is otherwise doing well.
Any new security upgrades to Riverside University campuses wouldn’t be the first for district schools.
In 2013, the Riverside Unified school board approved spending $885,000 to install better fences and entries at seven elementary schools, including Castle View, and one high school. At Castle View, a 3-foot-high chain link fence was replaced with one 6 feet high, and a gate for people with mobility issues was replaced with a gate with locks. Trees also were trimmed so people couldn’t pull themselves over the fence by grabbing the branches.
In recent years, Inland Empire school districts, including Corona-Norco and Jurupa Unified, have invested in technology that allows schools to do instant background checks by scanning visitor IDs. But when a visitor is flagged as a possible security risk, it still falls to school personnel to handle the incident.
In April, the estranged husband of a teacher shot and killed his wife and a student, and wounded another student at San Bernardino City Unified’s North Park Elementary.
Although Karen Smith’s classroom was just a few steps from the school’s single controlled entrance point through the office — similar to upgrades approved for Castle View Elementary back in 2013, after the Sandy Hook shooting in Connecticut — no school district police officers were on campus at the time of the shooting.
Riverside Unified already has eight School Resource Officers — Riverside Police officers assigned to one or more clusters of schools, according to Riverside Police Department spokesman Ryan Railsback.
Each School Resource Officer is assigned to one of the district’s comprehensive high schools, but will also be assigned to the high school’s associated middle schools and feeder elementary schools, and may also be assigned to the district’s continuation high school, he said. Officers travel wherever they’re needed among their assigned schools.
In practice, the resource officers spend most of their time at the high schools, according to Railsback.
“Because that’s where the majority of their needs would be, although they are responsible for the other schools, too,” said Railsback, who was assigned to Ramona High and Arlington High and their associated middle and elementary schools as a junior officer.
Supplementing the officers with security guards wouldn’t be cheap. Security guards in Riverside are paid between $28,446 and $36,889 a year, according to Salary.com.
That’s about the same as the lowest-paid, full-time support staff member in the district and half the salary of a first-year teacher. Riverside Unified has 31 elementary campuses, eight middle school campuses and nine high school campuses. A single full-time security guard at all 48 campuses would cost the district $1.3 million in salary alone.
Putting armed guards at every campus would fundamentally change the nature of the district’s schools, according to Darline Robles, a professor of education at the Rossier School of Education at the University of Southern California.
“Our schools want to be welcoming to our community. We want to be welcoming to our parents,” said Robles, who spent 45 years in education, including 20 years as a superintendent, most recently at the Los Angeles County Office of Education.
At both Castle View and North Park, the attacker was a known quantity to campus staff.
“If you end up where you lock everything and you have to go through a guarded door, even then, it could be a known parent, who could get in anyway and go crazy,” Robles said. “I don’t know that putting a guard at every school wouldn’t necessarily stop something from happening if someone wanted to do it anyway.”
Robles has a granddaughter attending a California public school, and Robles said she feels comfortable with security on her campus.
“Barring an infusion of millions of extra dollars coming in, I think our schools are doing a good job,” Robles said. “It’s a total community responsibility to keep our students safe, it’s not just one agency’s responsibility.”