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The Region

Tighter School Security Urged

Ventura County: Among its findings, the grand jury says fences would help.

April 26, 2002|HOLLY J. WOLCOTT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ventura County high schools need more security, including perimeter fences, surveillance cameras and police officers to further reduce the chances of a Columbine-type incident, according to a grand jury report released Thursday.

Despite the panel's lengthy and pointed recommendations, several school officials said that turning campuses into prison-like environments would not stop a gunman and sends the wrong message to the community.

"What's right for one school may not be right for another school. This needs to be handled on a case-by-case basis," said Don Austin, general counsel for the Ventura Unified School District, one of three districts criticized in the report. "Perimeter fencing does not guarantee the safety of kids," Austin said.

In the wake of Columbine, as well as a shooting that left two dead at Santana High School in San Diego County and a deadly police shooting last year at an Oxnard school, grand jurors visited 20 area high schools to investigate security measures.

While the panel lauded schools for having safety manuals and emergency plans, the grand jury found four schools had no established programs to check for weapons. They were identified as Ventura, Buena (Ventura Unified), Oak Park and Nordhoff (Ojai Unified) high schools.

The report also states that five campuses are far too accessible to nonstudents.

"Members of the grand jury were able to walk onto the school grounds of Nordhoff, Buena and Ventura high schools during school hours with no detection. A staff person at Ventura High School eventually challenged us," the report stated.

Although not identified in the report, the other two high schools could include campuses in Santa Paula and Fillmore, which have partial fencing such as at the other three schools, said Charles Weis, county superintendent of schools.

"Every school has different safety needs and when you start to say that all of them have to have this or have to have that, you lose some of the context of the pressing safety issues," Weis said. "Fences are good but they are not the answer."

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