http://pleasantonweekly.com/print/story/print/2013/01/18/pusd-talks-school-safety


Pleasanton Weekly

News - January 18, 2013

PUSD talks school safety

Student physical and mental health stressed at board meeting

by Glenn Wohltmann

Pleasanton officials are continuing to stress that schools here are safe.

At the school board meeting Tuesday night, school safety in several different areas was stressed.

"This is our No. 1 priority, to keep our students and our teachers safe, Superintendent Parvin Ahmadi told the board. "We do think about these things carefully. We have drills every month."

She added that students' mental well-being is as important as their physical safety.

Peggy Carpenter, president of the Association of Pleasanton Teachers, told the board she appreciated that safety is important, but added that the district needs to find a balance.

"We don't want to turn our schools into prisons," Carpenter said. "We need to keep it in perspective."

Ahmadi, Police Chief Dave Spiller and Deputy Chief Joseph Rodondi of the Livermore/Pleasanton Fire Department were scheduled to hold a public forum on school safety Wednesday night in the wake of recent shootings in Newtown, Conn., and Taft. That meeting was held after press time but will be covered at PleasantonWeekly.com and in next week's Pleasanton Weekly.

Regarding larger issues of school safety, administrators at the board meeting discussed new and updated programs aimed at keeping kids safe.

Those include an expanded partnership with the Alameda County department of mental health and the Portia Bell Hume Center to help students coping with suicidal thoughts, attention deficit hyperactive disorder and other mental health needs. The partnership has brought counselors from all the schools into collaborative meetings to talk about larger issues and has begun a train-the-trainers program to expand skill levels of the counselors.

The district is also involved in character building and bullying prevention, including an expansion of the DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program to include education on bullying and cyberbullying.

At elementary schools, kids are being taught to be "upstanders" instead of bystanders. Donlon Elementary principal Stephanie Ceminsky explained that means students are learning to ask themselves why they might need to speak to a teacher about bullying.

Amador High Principal Jim Hansen said administrators go into classrooms every year to talk about sexual harassment and bullying.

The push is apparently working. In the 2011-12 fall semester, there were 19 reports of bullying, compared to 17 in the same time period this year.

The use of police dogs to sniff cars and lockers for drugs seems to have cut down on the possession of drugs at schools. Parking lots and lockers at all three high schools were searched by the dogs twice since the program was started last year, with one arrest -- a student at Amador with drugs and a knife in his car -- and the discovery of paraphernalia at Foothill High.

"We brought a dog to the district offices as well, just to keep it fair," said police Officer Craig Hobizal.

Student Board Member Alexandra Sborov, a senior at Foothill, said the knowledge that the dogs could come by at any time has led to fewer kids bringing drugs to school.

The district is also taking proactive steps to keep kids healthy at schools. That means new awareness about increases in Type One diabetes and food allergies, among other things. Schools have initiated new rules for dealing with concussions, lice and screenings for tuberculosis, vision and hearing.

"Thirteen years ago, most teachers didn't know what an EpiPen (injectable Epinephrine) was," said school Nurse Amy Sluss, whose son suffers from severe food allergies. "We aim to make our schools a healthy, safe place for kids."

Pleasanton schools are also increasing their attention to attendance. Although the district averages a daily attendance rate of 97.5% -- the envy of many other districts, according to Kevin Johnson, senior director of pupil services -- it's taking aim at habitual truants and parents who frequently keep their kids out of school.

Johnson said in some cases, reducing truancy can be as simple as getting a student a bus pass or bike.

The district hired an outside firm to generate truancy letters with the aim of cutting student absences, which keep kids from being present to learn and cost the district money in attendance fees from the state.

Beyond those safety measures discussed at length at Tuesday night's meeting, the district is continuing to present programs in partnership with the Police Department and Mothers With a Purpose, an anti-drug group.

Johnson noted that it was a positive sign that the community is getting involved.

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