LANCASTER — Antelope Valley high school administrators, looking to improve safety on their campuses, are considering installing 10-foot high, wrought-iron fences and surveillance cameras.
"We want to have safe schools," said Robert Girolamo, superintendent of the Antelope Valley Union High School District. "We also want to have drug-free schools."
The district has been discussing ways to stem crime at its five comprehensive high schools and one continuation school. Principals, school-based sheriff's deputies and campus security officers got a chance Wednesday to tell the board of trustees what they thought should be done to create safer learning environments.
Over the past three years, an average of 185 students a year have been recommended for expulsion, according to district records. So far this year, expulsion has been recommended for 116 students. Assault-battery, possession of a weapon and disruptive behavior are the most common reasons students face expulsion.
School officials want to be better able to keep students on campus and non-students off. They also want a greater presence of security personnel and equipment. Six security officers and one sheriff's deputy are based at each school.
"There is a concern there are not enough security people," said Susan Custer, Quartz Hill High principal. "Our campuses are very large."
Some of the principals would even like metal detectors. "We'd feel that would probably help everything," said Beverley Louw, Desert Winds High principal.
During the meeting Wednesday, trustees approved a plan to allow metal detectors to be used when searching a student for weapons and also in random metal detector searches. In addition, trained dogs can be used to search out drugs in lockers, but not on any person.
Louw said the city park adjacent to the continuation school she oversees is a benefit to the school but is also becoming a problem with increasing gang activity.
Antelope Valley High Principal John Hutak said providing students and staff a safe campus is "a feeling, a nuance." Even so, he said, he would like to see his school better fenced and equipped with video and still cameras for use by security staff and teachers.
The solutions come at a cost and although the high school district is recovering from the financial problems of the past couple of years, officials said, money remains tight.
"We need to see some costing models," said Trustee Tony Welch, also commander of the Antelope Valley Sheriff's Station. "There's no sense in building up expectations."
Girolamo had said it would cost $30,000 to equip each school with modern security technology.
One of the most expensive improvements, he said, would be telephones in every classroom. Only the district's two newest comprehensive high schools, Highland and Littlerock, have phones in every room.
"I have a strong concern with the lack of telephones in classrooms," Custer said. "I think a telephone in each classroom is really critical."
Custer's remarks were echoed by the principals of the other schools that lack the emergency phones. Palmdale High Principal Mikie Loughridge said phones were her "absolute No. 1 priority."
She also said the cyclone fencing at her school was inadequate. "We desperately need some heavy-duty, wrought-iron fencing around our campus," she said.