Vice principal Dana Tolomeo, principal Hans Becker, and vice principal Kelly Lowry.
Teachers across the county, including those from San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD), are being trained in a new program designed to increase student safety during emergency situations, whether caused by a natural disaster or criminal act including active shooters.
While officials emphasize schools today are safer than ever, the San Diego County Office of Education (SDCOE) has been working with local law enforcement agencies to develop a best-practices plan staff members can use in safeguarding their students.
The project was based on research and guidance from federal experts in law enforcement, education, and emergency management.
"Providing a safe environment for learning is of the utmost importance for our students, teachers, employees, and parents," said SDUSD Superintendent Cindy Marten. "Ensuring a safe environment means being prepared for emergency situations of all types."
The new program is an Option-Based Responses one, meaning it gives educators more options than the traditional lockdown and wait for rescue. Known as "Run, Hide or Fight," adults on campus are being taught how to evaluate situations reasonably and prudently before selecting the best strategy, not necessarily in that order.
Following earlier school shootings, federal law enforcement created the program in 2013. They noted lockdown with the addition of barricading doors using classroom furniture is often the most effective response to active shooters although it sometimes can take hours for law enforcement to reach and release students.
"Lockdown (hiding) doesn't offer sufficient protection in every situation so the two new options – run or fight – have been identified and proven to increase survival rates in these attacks," notes Bob Mueller, leader of the Operations-Based Responses partnership at SDCOE. "What SDCOE has done is adapt the run-hide-fight program for the K-12 environment."
The new guidelines instruct adults to direct students to run to safety if it can be done safely, hide or lockdown in a secure location and barricade or, with no other options, use violent force to disrupt or incapacitate the shooter.
District officials emphasize students are not being trained to fight intruders. Such actions are intended for school employees.
SDCOE staff is providing training to districts throughout the county to implement the new options. Each district can determine how to best introduce the program.
At Point Loma High School, the staff was trained last month, according to vice-principal Dana Tolomeo, who is in charge of the program at the school. In addition, a practice total-school lockdown was held on Nov. 21.
Some writers on social media were critical of PLHS principal Hans Becker for not calling a school lockdown in late October when a bullet was found in a school restroom. Lockdowns can only be called by law enforcement officers and the onsite SDUSD police officer declared the school to be safe.
"The whole idea is to give each employee the skills to assess their situation for the best response," Marten said. "We train adults to lead students to make the right decision."