The January 29th General Meeting of the Baywood PTA included an extensive question and answer session during which Principal Maria Majka and San Mateo Deputy Police Chief Mike Callagy addressed parent concerns about school safety in the wake of the Newtown, Connecticut school shooting, the attempted kidnapping from Parkside School and other recent incidents.
Mrs. Majka began the session by emphasizing that she works closely with Deputy Callagy and the SMPD to ensure that Baywood is safe, and they communicate frequently about school safety issues.
“We are doing a lot to maintain and improve safety, and I think we have a very safe and secure school,” said Mrs. Majka, citing new gate closure policies and the recent installation of new lights on the playground.
“The most important thing schools can do is control access,” said Deputy Callagy, adding that he believes Baywood does that very well, particularly since the new gate closure and visitor procedures have been in use. Since the return from winter break the main door into the tunnel is kept closed and locked (although it can still be used as an exit). Students and parents must now use the new gates near the LGI to enter and exit the school, and these are kept locked except during drop-off and pick-up periods. During school hours, all visitors to the school - including parent volunteers - must check in at the office and receive a visitor badge.
Mrs. Majka and Deputy Callagy both emphasized that parents have an important role in maintaining school security. Noting that the gates do not close by themselves (to protect small hands) Mrs. Majka said “If you are on campus during the day, make sure you close the gate behind you, and if you see a gate or door open that shouldn’t be, close it.”
Deputy Callagy told the assembled parents that they should challenge any person they notice on or near the school grounds who raises their suspicions. If a parent feels uncomfortable challenging a stranger directly, they should alert the school or contact the SMPD. “Please feel free to call us anytime you have a need, a question or if you think something is sketchy,” he said. “We would much rather be safe than sorry.” He also urged people not to hesitate to call 911 in the event that they believe the situation requires an immediate response. For less urgent situations, the SMPD’s non-emergency number is (650) 522-7700 - a number Callagy encourages everyone to program into their phone.
Several parents had questions about what the police department and the school have done to prepare for a school emergency. “We regularly practice our responses in the event of a school emergency,” assured Deputy Callagy, noting that the shooting at Columbine High School in 1999 fundamentally changed the way police departments nationwide respond to threatening situations at schools. “The first unit on the scene goes in right away. Our priority is to stop the threat,” he said, adding that the police department sends all its officers to each of the local schools to make sure that they are familiar with their layouts, and that all police supervisors have plans of every school in their car.
Mrs. Majka noted that following the Newtown shooting, all Baywood classes practiced emergency lockdown procedures, and said there would be more such drills in the coming months. She described several other safety precautions that the school is taking, including encouraging a buddy system for bathroom visits, and giving teachers the option of keeping classroom doors locked during class time.
In response to a question about how parents would be notified in the event of an emergency, Mrs. Majka said that the school district has an emergency phone messaging system that will contact parents with information about what is occurring and what parents should do. “That is why it is really, really important that all parents make sure we have up-to date-phone numbers for you,” she added.
Deputy Callagy confirmed that in the event of an emergency at Aragon High School, Baywood would also be locked down, and parents notified.
Several parents had questions regarding the recently convicted sex offender who lives in the immediate vicinity of Baywood. Both Deputy Callagy and Mrs. Majka are aware of the conditions of his parole and have a plan in place in case of violation. She assured everyone that one of her first acts upon starting at Baywood last fall was to meet with the individual - in part so that she could recognize him on sight - and obtain from him an assurance that he would never set foot on the campus.
Several parents had questions about traffic safety. Several noted that the traffic patterns that have developed as a result of the new drop-off/pick-up location are creating safety issues; Mrs. Majka promised to have the school’s traffic engineers come and assess the situation.
Other parents wanted to know what they could do to keep children safe as they walk to and from school. Deputy Callagy noted that in today’s world, children should never walk to school alone, but always in pairs or groups. He also said that before letting children walk to school unaccompanied, parents should require them to demonstrate that they always make sure cars are stopping for them when they cross the street. And he said it was important to teach kids to be aware of cars entering and leaving driveways.
Deputy Callagy concluded by praising Baywood’s approach to safety. “You guys are really ahead of the curve by controlling access and practicing lockdowns. And we at the SMPD are ready if, God-forbid, anything ever happens here.”