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N-MUSD Examines Safety at Schools

The Newport-Mesa school board plans to strengthen security measures at district schools in response to a shooting at Fashion Island and the Connecticut elementary school massacre.

The tragedy at an elementary school in Connecticut coupled with a shooting at Fashion Island last week has prompted community leaders in Newport Beach to take a closer look at school security.

At a special meeting Tuesday at the Newport-Mesa Unified School District in Costa Mesa, school board trustees and police officials gathered to discuss potential ways to make schools safer. Several suggestions were given by the trustees, including adding security cameras, building more fences around schools, arming school employees, installing panic buttons and adding locks to doors, which will be examined by staff over the next few months.

"What happened last week in Connecticut was horrific and to think that something like that cannot happen here is very naive," trustee Karen Yelsey said.

"It's important during this time to let our community know we are vested deeply in providing a safe environment for students and staff," Fred Navarro, the district's superintendent, added.

Newport Beach Deputy Chief David McGill said plans are in place to take a closer look at elementary schools and identify vulnerable campuses that warrant tighter security measures. In addition, McGill says school resource officers are always patrolling the campuses.

"Part of their job is to have constant contact with staff and provide suggestions on safety," McGill explained.

Newport Beach and Costa Mesa police are also constantly training to deal with an active shooter scenario and pride themselves on a response time of about two minutes.

"The first couple of minutes are critical in these types of situations," McGill said. "We don't wait, we go in. Our training is constant, ongoing and ever-evolving."

District officials say students also participate in fire and earthquake drills on a regular basis, as well as lockdown drills a couple of times a year.

"It's a fact of life now," Trustee Katrina Foley said in regards to her suggestion for increased lockdown drills. "We haven't had a fire at a school in decades."

The trustees also suggested practicing safety drills for board meetings held at the district's education center.

"I'm a big fan of drills, the more the better," McGill said. "To get that mindset of 'if this happens, here's what needs to be done.'"

In direct response to the recent shootings, one at Fashion Island where 25 students were at the mall on a scavenger hunt, police increased their presence at local schools.

Foley said the effort was much appreciated.

"That meant a lot to families, making them feel more comfortable after the weekend's events," Foley said.

Yelsey added the "security and safety of our students is the board's utmost responsibility and desire."

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