When Principal Wynne Satterwhite’s voice came through the overhead speakers about the Code Blue emergency two weeks ago, one thought of panic flashed through students’ minds.
“I feared something like Newtown was happening again,” junior Alex Barreira said. “When I talked to other students about it, they said they felt the same way.”
After the recent, alarming shooting incidents across the nation (at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, Taft High School in California and a movie theater in Colorado), that feeling of momentary dread was certainly justifiable.
This fears reflect that students, for a single moment, recognized that Los Altos is not isolated from this sort of violence. Students should not recognize this for a single moment, however, and be conscious that Los Altos, because of its affluence, is not immune from from the events in Connecticut, Southern California and Colorado.
In fact, situations like this are taking place in the surrounding community. In December 2012, San Jose City College was shut down due to the threat of a potential gunman on the campus and Monta Vista High School was evacuated as a result of a potential bomb threat on campus. Both threats, ultimately determined to be hoaxes, fed off of the societal paranoia and the media’s sensationalistic depiction of shooting incidents.
“When there’s a major incident, it rises to people’s consciousness,” Assistant Principal Galen Rosenberg said.
The way to respond to these incidents is not by making LAHS a closed campus or by arming security guards at the campus. Such choices would only reinforce a sense of paranoia and fear at LAHS.
“I don’t think it’s a good thing to reinforce a sense of fear and lack of safety, especially if it’s done because people are afraid,” Rosenberg said. “In our society, we need to address the sources of violence. But the sources of violence that are threatening the American people aren’t the kinds of things that Los Altos High School will change by adding security cameras or life-guards or fencing the campus.”
There was an armed security guard at Columbine High School during the 1999 massacre which claimed the lives of 15 students and members of faculty. The presence of the guard didn’t serve as a deterrent for the crime to occur as the two students carried on with the crime that they had planned.
“The problem is if that there’s a person is going to do a terrible act like that and they’re armed, they’re going be able to do a certain amount of damage regardless,” Rosenberg said. “There might be a fortunate accident where a security guard is able to respond quickly enough, but I don’t think anyone wants to have a school where there’s an armed guard on campus.”
Instead, LAHS should continue to ensure that both staff and students have an appropriate understanding of the Code Red drill so that they can respond appropriately and efficiently should a shooter appear on campus.
“If there’s a good thing at all that comes out of these incidents, is that the staff and students are more willing to take it seriously,” Rosenberg said. “I always feel that when we do the drills here, we’re not just making Los Altos safer, we’re training all of us how to respond appropriately if we’re in a mall, a sporting event, or other kinds of circumstances where people can either respond appropriately or not.”
Additionally, emotionally distraught or concerned students should seek out the resources offered to them by the school. Many students are not aware of the two school psychologists, CHAC (Community Health Awareness Council) counselors and therapists available on campus.
“We are very fortunate at LAHS to be a part of a community of caring and talented professionals,” school psychologist Madeline Ettin said. “Many students who are in need of support turn to a teacher, counselor or other trusted adult with whom they have established a close and trusting relationship.”
Provided that more students take the initiative, the school is seeking to bolster their program to assist more students in need of help.
“It is important for students to know that there are additional resources on campus that are available to everyone,” Ettin said. “These include our CHAC counselors who are currently providing therapeutic support for approximately 75 students. There is also the Health Van which provides a wide range of services to student and additional therapeutic support provided by a therapist connected with El Camino hospital. In all instances, students can seek out support on their own and expect to be treated in a compassionate and professional manner.”
Through greater preparation in drills and consulting available resources to decrease emotional distress, both students and staff at LAHS will decrease the chance of an incident occuring and be more prepared should one occur.