Although school safety efforts by districts across Fresno County vary widely, the likelihood of a mass school shooting similar to the one in Uvalde, Texas, last year seems unlikely here, the Fresno County grand jury said in a report released Wednesday morning.
The report’s release coincides with the first anniversary of the massacre of 19 students and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde by a former student.
“School Safety and Security in Fresno County: Could Uvalde Happen Here? How Safe Are Our Schools?” is the third report issued this year by the grand jury and was commissioned to determine whether local schools are prepared for an active shooter situation.
The grand jury report concludes by stating that it “found areas where local police and schools are well-prepared to deal with active shooters, and they don’t believe a Uvalde-type incident would happen here, but there are no guarantees.”
But the grand jury also noted that some school districts, whether for a lack of financial resources or an “it can’t happen here mentality,” have made school security less of a focus.
School Security Varies
The grand jury cited a 2021 FBI report that K-12 schools, colleges, and universities were second only to businesses open to pedestrian traffic in the number of active shootings from 2000 to 2019.
The grand jury determined that local law enforcement agencies have a philosophy that gives the first responding officer or deputy the authority to “minimize any potential threat by neutralizing an active shooter without waiting for backup,” a direct contrast to the situation that unfolded in Uvalde a year ago when police officers waited more than an hour to breach the school and confront the shooter.
A review of a sampling of school districts and law enforcement agencies in the county by the grand jury determined that some schools are well-equipped to provide security for students, while others lack resources that can include communication devices. Some campuses are fenced, while others are open.
The grand jury reported that the Fresno County Department of Behavioral Health, Fresno County Office of Education, schools, and local law enforcement have developed a method to identify and intervene when a student is identified as a potential risk.
The involvement of parents also seems to vary widely, the grand jury found. Education officials told the grand jury that parent participation is important in school safety, but their efforts to get parents involved have met with mixed results.
As for communications, the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office can communicate directly by radio with all law enforcement agencies, but “this may change if the city of Fresno implements its new radio system,” the grand jury warned.
The grand jury issued a series of suggested guidelines, including:
- Each school should have a trained, sworn, and “equipped” School Resource Officer.
- All School Boards should provide appropriate funding and policies to maximize school security and student safety.
- Schools need to follow existing safety and security policies, including making sure that doors are closed and locked during class. Schools should use physical barriers, such as walls, fences, and locked doors to limit unauthorized access.
- “Panic buttons” that could include an emergency notification system or a phone app should be installed in each classroom, library, cafeteria, and school office.
- Schools should maximize the use of video surveillance.
Grand Jury Report