Principal Fitzgerald on Upcoming “Active Shooter Drill” at La Serna

Kathryn Salazar, Contributor

Update: La Serna High practiced a lock down drill on Tuesday, April 24, during 4th period. Tutorials were cancelled and students were allowed out for lunch at 12:25.

On Tuesday, April 24, La Serna High School will have a lock down to train students what to do in an active shooter situation. The drill is scheduled from 11:00 to 12 noon. Teachers were trained last week during period-by-period meetings with administrators and the school resource officer.

Recent events such as the deadly school shooting in Broward County, Florida, have shown that  school shootings are a serious issue that law enforcement, faculty, and students need to be concerned about. La Serna High will have the Tuesday lock down drill in order to help teach students how to remain safe in case of such an event.

In this interview, Principal Ann Fitzgerald answers questions  students have concerning safety on campus.

1. Are we  having some sort of school shooting drill?

“Yes, we are. We just concluded a meeting with all of our district administration, Whittier Police Department, Norwalk Sheriff Department, and Pico Rivera Sheriff Department that took place a couple of weeks before the break and gave us information on the most up-to-date procedures on how to handle an active shooter situation. We also have a member of the Whittier police department meeting with our team on Tuesday and we are going to talk about our drill. So we have one [planned]. We just put it on the books for April 24th that we will have an active [one.] We would typically just refer to them as lock down drills.

There are lots of situations in which a school goes into a self-lock down or lock in. I think the thing that’s different now is that we have seen from what’s happened in other schools is that our old mindset was that we just lock in place and then the police come and get us. And that could still be true, but there may be situations depending if there was ever, God forbid, any sort of incident where instead of locking down in some areas, maybe classes are leaving to different parts of campus.

We’re really working on trying to formally train the teachers and part of that is to [have teachers] make some of their own decisions on what is happening at the moment and be able to make good decisions so that they can direct their students on where to go. So we’re going to be doing that in April, and we will try to have one at the end of the school year and do these every fall and spring.”

2. Would you say this drill would be like any other drill or more heightened to specifically fit a school shooting?

“I think just based on the current climate of what is happening and with the most recent school shootings, they are going to take on a more heightened feeling. I think we want to make sure when doing the lock down drills students and adults know this is what is going to happen if there is an active shooter, or if there is someone with a knife, or if there is somebody [dangerous] on campus. We want [the drill] to be as meaningful as possible so everyone takes it seriously by silencing cell phones to ducking and turning the lights off and all of those types of things.”

3. Are you aware of what the drill would consist of ?

“I think it will be similar in nature. We will probably be making a verbal announcement going into lock down because it’s probably what we would do in a real situation. We have a couple of other schools in our district that recently tried to use a bell, but the bell didn’t work. So I think we are going to manually go on and make an announcement to notify students we are going into a lock down and then the teachers will take the students through the protocol of what to do and walk them through different scenarios. So part of that is going to be developed when we meet with Whittier Police Department next week and they give us their individual input, because they’ll come. They’ll be the first people on campus, and once the police department gets here they can take over what happens, so we can really rely on them to direct us on how to do that.  They have master keys to our campus, so if we are locked in they can enter and have access to our campus that way, which is really helpful. And we have Officer Goodman on our campus who is really familiar with our campus.”

4. How do you think the drill will affect students?

“I’m hoping that what the drill will do would help as it does in the Great Shakeout and fire drills. I think that part of our goal is to lower the anxiety level, so that students will have a plan and teachers will have a plan on how to respond. God forbid, it would ever happen again, but we have had real lock down situations on campus. We’ve had a situation several years ago where somebody burglarized a house behind the hills, and Officer Drylie, who now teaches for us, made the arrest and caught the guy in the street behind the school. So we’ve had situations where we’ve been in real lock downs where it hasn’t been an active shooter, but we’ve had to go into lock down.  I’m hoping that practicing and talking through the scenarios of what we would potentially do will help students to feel more confident and help each other out if something were to happen.”

5. What was your reaction about the past news of the possible shooting at El Camino High School?

“I think any time it hits close to home it makes you feel a little differently about things, but I think that the other thing that we know is when something big happens in our country what we’ve noticed even here at La Serna is that the students use our Text-a-Tip hotline more often. We’ve actually had several of our own students say, ‘Hey, there’s a picture of me out there but I’m holding an air soft gun. It’s not serious,’ and we’ve had reports so they didn’t get in trouble. But I think for us, or for me personally, that because [the El Camino High School incident] was so close and was in Whittier, it was just a real reminder about how scary it can be and important it is for us to be prepared.”

6. What did you think of the recent student walkout here at La Serna on gun control?

“I think whenever there is talk of students walking out it makes us anxious because we want to make sure those students are safe. Our ultimate goal is to keep our students in a safe environment where they could learn. What ended up happening in our situation is that I had students reach out to me because they wanted to plan an event. I was really impressed that they wanted to plan something that they felt was going to be really meaningful. They didn’t want it to be partisan, they just wanted to focus on it. It did take on a little bit of a different vibe out there once people started chanting, but I think that it’s important for students to have a voice and be able to express other feelings. Schools are designed for you all, and I think especially for high school level students we really want you to start finding your voice and finding opportunities to get involved. I think it is an important opportunity for students and I’m happy that everybody stayed on campus instead of walking out.”

7. What other safety procedures do you think La Serna can or have started to keep the campus safe?

“Well, we’ve done a few things. One of the first things we did was replace all of the exterior locks on the perimeter of the school and upgraded them to more secure locks. That was all done a few weeks back, so all of the teachers have new keys for the perimeter locks. We are looking at installing additional security cameras. They are now going to give us an app so we can look at the cameras through our phone in case of an emergency, which is really helpful. We just installed in some of the classrooms on upper campus these things called ‘lock box,’ which allows teachers to keep their doors locked. They are these little devices in the R and Q buildings because those doors lock from the outside. So teachers can now keep their doors in a locked position and this device keeps it in a position where it could be locked and closed in the event of an emergency. It can be clicked over and the door is now automatically locked. So we’re looking for ways for doors to lock in place in a more efficient matter. Our staff custodians have been examining all of the doors to make sure they can be secured. The other thing is that we really want staff members to wear their IDs like the students do. We’re hoping that we’ll be able to institute this where everybody has their ID and we always have our keys with us, so, in the event of an emergency, an adult on campus can get everyone out.