School district defends safety measures
Examiner Staff Writer
May 25, 2008
Four San Francisco students have been caught bringing firearms to class this year, and 65 carried other weapons — incidents the Public Defender’s Office says are becoming increasingly common.
A 6-year-old brought a handgun to Cleveland Elementary School on May 9, the day after a 17-year-old was discovered with a loaded semi-automatic weapon during an evening class at Lowell High School. Two other gun-possession cases were reported earlier this school year, according to district data.
Though recent incidents sparked online debates over access to guns — even toy guns — among San Francisco parents, district officials say existing safety measures are working well.
Security guards and police officers are posted at most San Francisco Unified School District campuses, spokeswoman Gentle Blythe said. Schools perform lockdown drills once a year, but have not installed metal detectors to check students for weapons — and don’t plan to.
“One of the goals is to be open and inviting, to create a place where students and parents feel safe,” Blythe said. “There are a lot of ways to create that safety.”
When a student is disciplined for carrying a weapon, “we make sure they get counseling and other support, so they can hopefully integrate back into the school system,” Trustee Eric Mar said.
Despite occasional guns in school, students haven’t shot fellow students on campus, Public Defender Jeff Adachi said.
However, “We’ve definitely seen more cases of young people with guns,” Adachi said. “And if you’re seeing a steady flow of guns and knives in school it raises that possibility [of a shooting].”
Juvenile-hall inmates polled by the Public Defender’s Office said students predominantly carry weapons for protection — not assault.
But protection can mean something different to teens such as the student who brought a gun to a San Francisco high school several years ago, said Visitacion Valley Middle School Principal James Dierke, who would not name the school where the incident happened.
“This boy had bought the gun the day before on Market Street for $100 because someone had taken his parking space at school and he was going to get the guy,” Dierke said.
At Visitacion Valley, assemblies teach the consequences of gun violence — both for the victim and for the perpetrator, Dierke said.
Trustees have taken disciplinary action against the 6-year-old, though details could not be revealed for legal reasons, said trustee Eric Mar.
Setting a trend
SFUSD started tracking student incidents involving weapons or assaults to spot trends. Here’s what it found this school year:
Students who brought guns to school: 4
Students who brought other weapons to school: 65
Assaults with weapons: 22
Battery cases: 17
The security detail is divided between many schools.
Total guards: 119
1 at a child development center
8 at elementary schools
2 per middle school
4 per high school
Total police: 32
On duty: Ten hours per day, four days per week
Patrolling: Middle and high schools
This story originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.