Dr. Chris Hurst, West Contra Costa Unified School District (WCCUSD) superintendent, said in a public message Tuesday that he is “deeply disturbed” by two incidents last week involving weapons on high school campuses, and discussed steps the district is taking in the short and long term to address safety.
“Keeping our students and staff safe, both physically and mentally, is our top priority,” Hurst said.
On Friday, a shooting occurred during an afternoon fight at De Anza High. No one was struck by gunfire but one student was injured in the incident, police said. On Tuesday last week, El Cerrito High was put on lockdown over a student involved in a fight who was reported to be in possession of a gun, the district reported to KRON 4 news. The firearm was not discharged.
In the wake of the incidents, Hurst said the district immediately “instituted a single point of entry at these campuses and deployed district safety personnel to the sites,” and added, “following the education code, we can and will search student bags.”
“We are reminding secondary school leaders that all students and staff on campus should be wearing ID cards. We are examining our secondary school site plans to understand points at which security can be breached. Our district has invested in cameras, restorative justice training and mental health services for students. We are also working with Senator Skinner’s office to apply for a grant up to 15 million dollars for services including mental health and social emotional learning to support our students.”
Hurst called these steps “vital” for safety but not enough, noting the district will continue reaching out to elected officials at the local and state level to request additional support and resources.
“At the site level, we are working with our principals around establishing a culture of safety on campus,” Hurst said. “This means monitoring the climate on campus and identifying and working closely with students who have behavioral issues. Students should not be allowed to walk around campus during class time unless they have a legitimate reason.”
In June 2020, the WCCUSD Board of Education voted to end contracts with police agencies to assist in public safety at schools. The funding for the school resource officer (SRO) program was to be redirected to programs serving African American students. For several years prior to the Board’s decision, some in the district and school community had advocated for removing police from campuses and replacing their services with a restorative justice model.
In a statement posted to social media last week, WCCUSD Board Trustee Mister Phillips advocated for the return of the SRO program.
“It has become clear to me that the school district’s new safety plan is not working,” Phillips said. “I have received reports of children pistol whipped and robbed at gunpoint on campus. I strongly recommend that the district reinstate the school resource officer program and metal detectors until we have a better plan to keep our children safe at school.”