The Los Banos Unified School District has been overhauling safety procedures and restricting access to its campuses for the past year, but now it’s Charleston Elementary’s turn.
“We are eight miles out of town, if I needed help it would be the county Sheriff’s Department I’d call and they could come from (any part of the county),” said Charleston Elementary School Principal Lou Ruiz. “I’m worried about one of these nutjobs who pulls off I-5 and needs to use the bathroom and goes, ‘There’s a building.’ I’ve been here nine years and we’ve never had an issue, but it only takes one time.”
Charleston Elementary, which is on Charleston Road directly east of Highway 165 and north of Interstate 5, has access points that allow people to get on and off campus without going into the office. The school district plans erect a gate and move the office north of its current location to a building in front of the campus that was formerly used as a cafeteria. The district is poised to spend about $40,000 on the project, which will include the gate, an electronic system to buzz visitors onto campus and renovations to the new office. The school board is expected to award the bid for the project next week.
Superintendent Steve Tietjen said construction will take place during the winter break. Tietjen said moving the office is essential.
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“As it is now, you go past classrooms to get to the office. I think it’s like that because probably back then there was a philosophy at the time that the principal needed to see the students at recess, which is not bad. But given today’s circumstances, we need to make sure the principal knows who’s on campus.”
Ruiz said the gate will be open before school but be closed during the rest of the day. He said the idea is to force parents to come to the office first. He said the new office will also have a walk-up window.
“I know parents sometimes get upset we’re changing things, but now when they come to me and say, ‘What are you doing to keep my child safe,’ I can answer that.”
The district began reviewing the safety of its 10 campuses last year. Efforts intensified after the Dec. 14 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn., where 20 children and six staff members were killed.
At the time, Charleston and R.M. Miano Elementary schools drew the most concern. Similar to Charleston, the Miano campus design meant people could easily bypass school staff and enter classrooms before a gate was built.