A recently released investigative report by the Orange County Grand Jury found Orange County schools are “doing a good job” in maintaining safe campuses for students in case of a school shooting, though had numerous recommendations for improvement.
The report, released Wednesday, June 14, outlines key findings by jury members based on interviews with law enforcement agencies and questionnaire responses from public schools, among other sources.
Recommendations to enhance safety include assessing the need for additional school resource officers, reaching out to appropriate community partners to facilitate funding for more officers by July 1, 2024, and improving building and equipment infrastructure.
“While it is indisputable that much has been achieved during the past five years to make Orange County public schools safer, there is still much to be done,” the report said. “While it is true that no school will ever be totally safe from intruders, it is the responsibility of school boards, school administrators, and law enforcement to make them as safe as possible.”
Talking to law enforcement agencies led jury members to believe a school shooting in Orange County is inevitable.
“While it is truly fortunate that Orange County schools have not experienced this type of violence, numerous law enforcement and school officials say it is not a matter of ‘if but when,’ ” the report said.
Regarding the need for more school resource officers (SROs), the jury’s investigation found funding “remains a huge obstacle for cities, school districts, and law enforcement agencies.”
“While the men and women who serve as SROs are highly dedicated, many current SROs in the county are assigned far too many schools to effectively fulfill their responsibilities,” according to the report. “Most SROs in the county are assigned to high school campuses and must also cover a number of middle/elementary schools that feed into the high school.”
The Orange County Sheriff’s Department is the agency with the most school resource officers, with 17 serving over 125 schools—primarily in South Orange County.
A prominent factor impacting the number of officers, besides funding, is “the reality that most law-enforcement agencies are short-staffed and have increasing difficulty hiring qualified individuals which results in many officers being assigned to patrol duties to cover a city’s needs,” according to the report.
As for enhancing infrastructure, the jury report recommended campuses have protective covering and tinted windows.
“One of the problems with the open design of many school campuses throughout Orange County is that there is too much visibility into classrooms from outside areas open to the public,” the report said. “Many classrooms lack curtains, mini-blinds, or other basic window coverings to obscure an intruder’s view. Securing classroom windows will help create a safer learning environment for students.”
School windows should be covered with shatter-resistant and/or tinted film covering to provide an additional layer, the report recommended.
“In an active shooter scenario, shatter-resistant film can slow down an intruder and reduce the impact of ammunition fired into classrooms, giving teachers and students more time to escape or hide,” the report said. “It can also assist law enforcement in recovering spent ammunition.”
The jury’s investigation found there was “practically” no support for arming teachers and school staff among Orange County educators.
“Among the reasons given by school personnel were the obvious ones of injury or death of innocent students or staff, and law enforcement mistaking anyone holding a weapon as the suspect,” the report said. “Another reason was that without ongoing training, people lose the physiological responses to stress that enable fine motor skills and marksmanship.”
A “small number” of law enforcement representatives reportedly supported arming teachers so a “threat could be eliminated prior to a first responder arriving.”
“While representing a tiny minority of their peers, some in law enforcement would support arming school personnel, but only with stringent restrictions such as rigorous training, marksmanship, and proven sound judgment,” the report said. “Most law enforcement personnel believe arming of any non-law enforcement school personnel to be an unacceptable idea under any circumstance.”
Further recommendations include having wire mesh fences around campus perimeters.
The report noted most Orange County school districts have an “an effective parent and visitor management system” and have ongoing “collaborative relationships” with law enforcement agencies.
“Fifteen of the 21 districts that reported collaborative working relationships with at least one local law enforcement department also reported conducting annual safety assessments,” the report said. “Even though all 15 districts may conduct their annual safety inspections in collaboration with local law enforcement, only five of these 15 districts reported doing so.”
As of this posting, the Capistrano Unified School District had not responded to a request for comment.
Orange County’s school districts, including CUSD, have a 90-day window to submit state-required responses to the grand jury report’s findings and recommendations.
The full report can be found at ocgrandjury.org.