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Are Citrus Heights schools safe?

Sylvan Middle School
File photo. The new Sylvan Middle School opened in 2016 with a newly expanded and renovated campus. //CH Sentinel

Sentinel staff investigation–
Amid national reports of school shootings, school safety has been a heightened topic of concern at multiple meetings over the past year in Citrus Heights.

In response to shootings occurring across the country throughout 2022 and early 2023, the City Council urged the San Juan Unified School District to assess the safety of Citrus Heights schools, requested that the Citrus Heights Police Department present on the feasibility and cost of placing police officers on every campus, and pushed for the creation of a Citrus Heights Education Committee, which would explore the feasibility of Citrus Heights forming its own school district.

“I don’t know what we’re waiting for,” Daniels said during an April 13 City Council meeting. “Our kids need protection.”

Related: Citrus Heights council votes 3-2 to explore forming new school district

Over the course of a month, Sentinel staff visited and reviewed public schools within Citrus Heights in an effort to observe the safety of their campuses from an outside visitor’s perspective.

What we observed
The majority of Citrus Heights elementary, K-8 and middle schools have fencing over five feet high surrounding their perimeter, but some elementary schools have fencing that is much shorter and easier to climb. Some elementary campuses also have vertical locked gates and fencing surrounding buildings with classrooms, giving added protection to classrooms from any potential outside threats.

One of two high schools in Citrus Heights have fencing surrounding the perimeter, classrooms and other buildings utilized by students. The second high school lacks fencing around and between buildings that house classrooms.

From January: Citrus Heights Police Chief says cost could run $2.5M to put cops in schools

Five out of 10 elementary and K-8 campuses have playgrounds and classrooms located on the front or side of the campus, viewable from the street, near drop-off and pick-up zones, some with fencing less than five feet in height. The other five campuses had playgrounds located out of sight from the street or front of campus, behind buildings or trees.

The majority of the 12 public school campuses in Citrus Heights were observed to have fencing over five feet high and only one or two access points for guests to enter campus. However, a handful of campuses appear to have multiple access points from various locations around the campus perimeter during the school day, including what appears to be easy access on foot through alleyways, emergency access roads, parking lots, or side streets.

What safety improvements are underway?
According to an email statement from San Juan Unified School District Director of Communication Raj Rai, $10 million has been set aside for school safety improvements throughout the school district, which includes Citrus Heights, Orangevale, Fair Oaks, Carmichael and Arden-Arcade. Within Citrus Heights, the primary focus for improvements has centered on upgrading fencing and creating single or limited points of entry.

Rai confirmed that fencing projects have already been completed at five schools within Citrus Heights, and fencing upgrades are currently underway at San Juan High School and Arlington Heights Elementary. The district expects to complete further fencing projects at Kingswood K-8, Lichen K-8 and Mesa Verde High School by the beginning of the 2024-25 school year.

In prioritizing school site upgrades, the district’s Safe Schools program analyzed factors such as whether a campus was adjacent to parks and open areas, and the level of crime in surrounding neighborhoods.

From last year: Citrus Heights council seeks to review school safety, following Texas shooting

Beyond fencing, Rai said the district has purchased 5,000 door locking blocks that allow classroom doors to be easily locked from the inside in case of an on-campus threat. Other security measures that are being considered are front office electronic access cameras and lock mechanisms that will allow for controlled access.

During a Jan. 12 City Council meeting, Mike Jones, director of the San Juan Unified District Safe Schools program, presented a safety analysis of Citrus Heights schools, and also provided an overview of training and preventive strategy efforts already underway. Rai reiterated that the focus this year has been on supporting school sites with Behavioral Threat Assessment teams.

In a video posted on the district’s Youtube channel, Jones explained that Behavioral Threat Assessment teams are collaborative teams on school sites that are trained to identify and investigate potential threats and react accordingly. San Juan’s Safe School’s team held a Behavioral Threat Assessment teams training in October 2022.

“This type of training is the foundation of safety for school campuses moving forward,” Jones said in the video.

Rai adds that the district is also looking into expanding staffing dedicated to student supervision at the highest need schools and hopes to include a proposal in development of next year’s budget.

Editor’s note: The Sentinel has chosen not to publish the names of specific schools observed to be at higher risk for safety, as part of our journalistic commitment to minimize harm in our reporting.

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