Lights, cameras, action at Richmond High
on October 29, 2009
Concerned parents, teachers and community organizers at Richmond High School have demanded the school board install new security cameras, better lighting on campus and create a comprehensive district safety plan.
“We’re doing all of those things, and we want to do more,” West Contra Costa Unified School District board member Charles Ramsey said during an often heated public meeting Wednesday night of the district’s safety subcommittee. “People have to understand we are trying to do everything we can. This school has a lot of needs.”
But many of those who attended the board’s safety subcommittee meeting, made unusually popular after Saturday’s rape of a 15-year-old female student, argued that the district has long neglected their requests.
“We were laughed at when we said we needed 13 security guards. We were laughed at when we said we needed $80,000 of security cameras,” teacher Jessica Price said as she struggled to keep her voice steady. “They would have been right there, where my student was …”
Price was referring to the victim, who was raped, robbed and beaten Saturday night on campus, according to police. Four of the five arrested suspects were arraigned today.
Despite plans in place for 120 new cameras, Price said she felt like the project has been road-blocked. Other speakers echoed similar frustrations, sometimes yelling out from their school auditorium seats.
When responding, Ramsey at times appeared defensive, once pushing his microphone to the side to avoid finishing his sentence.
Much of Wednesday night’s discussion focused on the amount of time it takes to get things done, or get them done right.
“We already have cameras – they don’t work,” Ramsey said. “It didn’t work because of improper planning.”
Michael Wasilchin, who represents the union for the district’s school site supervisors, said he has been asking for a comprehensive safety plan for almost four years. He said he thinks the plan should designate a chain of command during emergencies and training for all levels of staff, including maintenance workers who are not required to attend safety drill meetings.
Wasilchin said one major safety issue is that the Richmond High site supervisors haven’t had their required three days of training this school year. They completed half of the training last year.
“The district has always had a spotty record about that,” he said.
Site supervisors, district-hired staff who take care of campus security, can provide the best security at school events because they know the campus and are able to identify people who do not belong, Wasilchin said. At the time of the rape, he said only one site supervisor was on duty. To have four more would have cost about $250, he said.
Recommending a safety plan was one of several suggestions given at the meeting.
Many of the suggestions require a lengthy review process and more funding, according to district officials. But at least one idea is funded by taxpayers and free for schools – a rape crisis and prevention service.
“We have asked, we have begged, and we have all but demanded to come on this campus,” said Rhonda James, executive director of Community Violence Solutions.
Several other people approached the board members with ideas, some with new recommendations and some who had offered their services before.
A representative from the North and East Patrol Group offered to bring teams of adults to the neighborhood to walk the streets, patrol school events and get to know the area. A member of the Bay Area Peacekeepers offered similar help. The Iron Triangle Neighborhood Council said its members are also available. And the safety chair at Pinole Valley High School, Tammy Campbell, suggested Richmond High incorporate a class on respect and values into the curriculum.
Campbell, like others who spoke, emphasized the need to work on personal values. She said that at Pinole Valley High, where there are no fences, safety programs were scrapped to fund the now-defunct camera system at Richmond High.
After hearing from a parent concerned about disparaging remarks being made about the rape victim on campus, Ramsey and board member Tony Thurmond called on everyone in the room to report and punish any student who makes a derogatory comment about the girl.
Committee members also voted to put several of the night’s suggested items on the agenda for the Wednesday, Nov. 4 school board meeting at 6:30 p.m., including one to hurry the review process and get emergency money for safety equipment upgrades.
Associate Superintendent Wendell Greer said the district is reviewing its processes and procedures, especially regarding security policies. The goal, he said, is to develop a long-term solution.
“Clearly, we have a lot of work to do,” Thurmond said.
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