Forum focuses on school safety, strategies

Winters Police and Fire Departments presented a School Safety Forum for the public, sponsored by the Winters Joint Unified School District. From left are Superintendent Todd Cutler, Captain Art Mendoza, Fire Chief Brad Lopez, Police Chief John Miller, Detective David Gonzales and Sergeant Kelly McCoy. Photo by Margaret Burns

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“Learning doesn’t happen except in a safe environment,” said Todd Cutler, Winters Superintendent of Schools, in his opening remarks at the Safety Forum held Wednesday, April 4, to inform the public about the steps being taken to assure a safe environment for all Winters students.

Cutler emphasized that many of the Measure R improvements that have been made at Winters schools assure a safer environment. He pointed out that safety does not only mean new locks on the doors that open from within, or fences, but things like a new public address and phone system to improve communication within the buildings and between the different school sites and the administration building.

“Each year, each site updates their safety plan,” said Cutler. “Now we are working with the fire and police departments to insure safety for our students.”

Winters Fire Chief Brad Lopez said an Emergency Operation Plan (EOP) is in place. He said the fire department will do “table-top” exercises in the near future to evaluate that plan and then go on to functional drills on site to build the skills needed for the EOP. Staff needs to be trained and to work in a unified way to respond effectively, he said.

Winters Police Chief John Miller said that the EOP for the schools is also a concern of the city. The school plan must integrate with emergency plans for the city.

Barbara Dieter, concerned citizen and retired deputy District Attorney, asked if the police, fire and schools are engaged with Yolo County officers in terms of emergency planning. Lopez, Miller and Fire Captain Art Mendoza pointed out that mutual aid from other venues is built into the operating procedures of both the police and fire departments.

“We routinely train with other agencies and departments,” said Mendoza. “We use an internet command system with those teams, like Davis and Vacaville. Other fire and police aid can be mobilized very fast in any emergency.”

Pointed questions came from parents who were clearly concerned about safety issues regarding unwanted persons on campus, possibly triggered by the recent mass shooting at a school in Parkland, Florida. One person said that both Rominger and Waggoner schools have chain link fences, but the middle school is a totally open campus. She pointed out that even the cemetery has a chain link fence with razor wire, but there is less containment for the Middle School.

Sergeant Kelly McCoy responded that there needs to be a balance between protection and having a fortress.

A parent pointed out that the best feeling of all at a school is to see a policeman present on site.

McCoy, who is a school resource officer, said that she makes it a point to go to different schools so the students and staff know the police and are not afraid.

“We are here for the students,” said McCoy. “That’s our job. I would put down my life for any student. That is what I do when I put on this badge.”

A parent asked whether it was feasible to have volunteers serve as security on the school sites, for example, retired police or volunteer parents. Both Cutler and Miller responded that there are many doable things, but money is often the limiting resource, as well as many other issues, like training, scheduling, insurance and abilities.

Lopez pointed out that the fire department has had to undergo a mind shift, in terms of thinking about their responsibilities.

“We now have four bullet-proof vests on our fire engines. Our firefighters are trained to go in to situations where they need self-protection in order to save lives. That is something new for us.”

The added burden of the new housing development in terms of public safety was brought up since that will bring more people and more students to Winters.

Dieter expressed more concern about the probability of a deadly traffic accident at the high school than a shooting incident. She asked if CalTrans couldn’t do something to make the area around the high school safer for pedestrians, particularly teenagers.

Cutler responded that this is an ongoing problem. Because Grant Avenue is a state route (Highway 128), it is entirely the responsibility of CalTrans. The city or the school has no jurisdiction over that street. He said they have tried to educate students to be safe on the streets.

One parent, holding a small child, pointed out that the preschools in town were not on the police or fire agenda, and they needed to be included in emergency planning as well.

Cutler asked for anyone interested in serving on a committee to look for ways to improve safety of all sorts at the schools to sign up. Lopez added, “Our door is open — come talk to us.”









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