With 15 school shootings this year alone, students and parents are on edge wondering if it could happen locally. While the Atascadero High School campus has some effective security measures, the campus is easily accessible from several places, and the video surveillance system could use some improvements; the campus should also be more protected from outsiders who frequently wander onto the school site walking their dogs, taking the shortcut to downtown through campus, or exercising on the AHS facilities during the school day.
AHS has an open campus policy, as many California high schools do, which means students are able to leave campus to purchase lunch, so both the front and back entrances are left open at lunch. The open campus system is in place because the school’s small snack bar cannot accommodate the entire student body. During breaks and lunch, school campus supervisors Darvell Cullors and Sid Rodriguez, along with administrators, and AHS's School Resource Officer patrol the campus and down to Atascadero Mall and to McDonalds at lunch to supervise students. Because of the open campus policy and the school’s sprawling, open nature, the campus has many entrances that are mostly left unattended throughout the school day.
There have been some recent security improvements, however, and there are more on the way. Two years ago, AHS added Officer Schamber as a School Resource Officer through a partnership with the Atascadero Police Department. Officer Schamber’s primary assignment is Atascadero High School. In addition, the access road that once connected San Andres Avenue to Atascadero Avenue has recently been closed, which may help deter unwanted visitors from using the road as a short-cut to downtown during school hours. According to Principal Mr. Neely, there has been discussion at the district level about implementing electronic gates to control car traffic and having only authorized personnel having cards to be able to enter campus.
New fencing was also recently added from the Ag Greenhouse to the 2000 building along the creek boundary. That keeps kids from wandering down to the creek at breaks and lunch and could deter anyone from accessing the campus from the creekside, even though they could easily come through the back entrance on foot.
“I am pleased that we have been able to add this fencing to improve school safety at Atascadero High School,” said AUSD Superintendent Tom Butler. New security measures are also planned to be in place in the new Science and Shops buildings, and cameras that used to look across the parking lot towards the I-building will need to be relocated. New cameras have also recently been added around the football stadium, which has helped improve security there.
AHS has over twenty-four cameras currently in use, according to Principal Neely. He said that the system is “fairly comprehensive” and that “we’re able to see what’s happening.” The cameras are all under five years old, have been recently upgraded, have high resolution images, and are connected to a computer that is always filming, according to Vice Principal of Discipline & Attendance Mr. Allen.
Principal Neely admits to the fact that a huge, open campus like AHS creates security challenges. He said, “I think we do a really good job of maintaining security,” and discussed the multi-pronged efforts made throughout the day to keep the campus safe. However, some areas of campus are lacking adequate surveillance. The 2000 building (H-building) and the G5 building have no camera surveillance whatsoever, but according to Mr. Neely, there is a camera facing towards the H wing from the service road, although after looking for that camera, I was unable to locate any along the road or near the 2000 building. According to Mr. Neely there are no cameras in the 2000 building because, “It’s only open during school hours and there are all those teachers in classrooms in there.”
There has recently been a problem with vandalism in the 2000 building bathrooms and according to local news station KSBY, there was an issue involving a male student filming others in the women’s restroom in the same bathrooms only a few months ago. If a better camera surveillance system was in place in that area, it would be much easier to identify students doing things they shouldn’t be doing. “To really identify beyond a shadow of a doubt the individual that did that, I’d have to have a camera in the bathroom and that’s illegal, for obvious reasons,” said Mr. Neely. However, having a camera near the restrooms would help deter students from making these bad decisions.
According to Cite the source of this data, in 2018 there were 97 school shooting incidents in the United States, and so far in 2019 there have been 30. Out of the 1,368 school shooting incidents that have occurred in the U.S. since 1970, a shocking 158 of them have occurred in California, according to the U.S.’s Center for Homeland Defense and Security K-12 School Shooting Database. In school shooting incidents around the country, the shooter was able to enter campus through an unguarded entrance.
So in the state with the most school shootings in the country, why is our school so open and accessible? If someone was intent on harming our students, it would be as easy as walking through the open entrances, and into open classrooms, which is what happened in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, when the gunman entered through an open, unguarded gate and then was able to open the doors to unlocked classrooms.
AHS doesn’t even have signs at entrances prohibiting entry by community members during school hours. People will sometimes be jogging on the track during PE classes. If those individuals wanted to cause harm to students, it would be easy to do. All visitors to AUSD schools are required to go through extensive check-ins, including background checks and confirmation though photo ID before entering campus. However, “Somebody could come onto campus uninvited and unbeknownst to us,” Mr. Neely said.
With a Wellness Center on campus and an abundance of ways in which students can get the emotional and psychological support they need, counselors hope that no students ever feels the need to harm anyone on the AHS campus.
AHS needs better security at its entrances and possibly needs to have fewer access points. An estimated eighty percent of the campus is fenced, but that’s not stopping anyone when the entrances are all left unattended. The campus needs to begin a transition to a more closed campus. According to Mr. Neely, in the future AHS will possibly transition to only seniors and juniors in good standing being able to leave campus. “I think there are expectations that at some point, whether it’s with this money [current modernization funding] or future monies, there’s a commitment with creating two very distinct entrances to our campus: one by the gymnasium and one right here at the front of the school,” Mr. Neely added.