Citrus Heights Sentinel Logo

What is SJUSD doing to increase safety at Citrus Heights schools?

File photo, Carriage Drive Elementary. // S. Williams

By Sara Beth Williams–
Hiring additional staff, updating surveillance systems, purchasing locking blocks for doors and installing new fencing are among plans being implemented to improve safety at Citrus Heights schools, according to a report from the San Juan Unified School District earlier this month.

During an Aug. 10 City Council meeting, Daniel Thigpen, the district’s executive director of labor relations, presented an update on plans underway for improving school safety at Citrus Heights schools. In June of 2022, he said the district earmarked $10 million in funds to use for updating and modernizing campuses across the entire district and then spent seven months conducting school site safety assessments.

Thigpen outlined several areas of concern that the district has and plans to continue addressing, including out-of-date camera systems, internal door locking mechanisms, and perimeter fencing.

To date, he said five Citrus Heights school sites have had fencing upgrades completed, including Carriage Drive Elementary, Grand Oaks Elementary, Skycrest Elementary, Woodside Elementary, and Sylvan Middle School. Arlington Heights and San Juan High School are scheduled to receive fencing upgrades in 2023-24 and Mesa Verde High School, Lichen K-8, and Kingswood K-8 in 2024-25.

Thigpen listed several other safety measures the district plans to address in the future, including purchasing 5,000 door locking blocks, which allow teachers and staff to lock a door quickly without the use of keys, updating surveillance systems to the latest technology, and installing front office electronic access cameras.

“It takes multiple layers of strategy and investments to ensure that our students, staff and community remain safe every day before, during and after school,” Thigpen said, adding that additional measures will be addressed in the years to come and will be completed based on funding availability.

Thigpen, along with Safe Schools Program director Mike Jones, emphasized the importance of trained adult supervisory staff building positive relationships with students on campus. In a Safe Schools program overview, Jones outlined the benefits of employing community safety specialists throughout the district. Community safety specialists can address behavioral issues or threats, collaborate with internal district resources, develop and implement specific student or site safety plans, interview and gather information related to student and school site safety, and share information with law enforcement officials.

Thigpen also reported that for this school year, the district is investing approximately $830,000 in funding to hire and train 10 new full-time staff throughout Citrus Heights schools who will assist in monitoring and building positive relationships with students on campus.

Also new this year, Thigpen said, mandated training courses are required for all classified staff, which ensures that there is “consistency across our entire district on best practices for keeping students safe.”

Councilmember MariJane Lopez-Taff complimented Thigpen and Jones on a “wonderful” and “comprehensive” presentation. Vice Mayor Bret Daniels called the presentation “very responsive” to many of the issues occurring throughout the nation, but also expressed concerns about having only one primary community safety specialist working in Citrus Heights, shared between all campuses in the city.

In response, Jones explained that the district’s team of community safety specialists oversee around 10 campuses each, but work together as a “fluid team” to address larger issues that arise, as well as independently to address behavioral concerns. He emphasized that law enforcement is also called whenever a crime is in progress on campus.

Daniels proposed during the meeting that the council consider funding of a police officer at each of the high school campuses in the city, a motion that was seconded by the mayor and will be placed on the agenda at a future council meeting.

Comprehensive school site safety plans can be found on the district’s Safety Resources webpage.

Related: Vice mayor urges funding for officers at Citrus Heights high schools

Like local news? Sign up for The Sentinel’s free email edition and get two emails a week with all local news and no spam, ever. (Click here)