School Security Scrutinized

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SMMUSD

Security at Malibu and Santa Monica schools will soon be upgraded as national conversation continues to focus on student safety in light of increased school shootings.

The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Board of Education spoke at length at its last meeting on Feb. 21 about ways to upgrade school security. At the moment, the district looks to install access control check-in systems and security cameras at all campuses. Altogether—for all school sites—installation of the check-in systems would cost $50,000 and surveillance would cost around $1 million; money for the projects would most likely come from the recently passed Measure M and SMS facility bonds.

In Malibu, schools do not have a reputation for high security standards.

“I mean, you could write down ‘Mickey Mouse’ on the sign-in sheet and nobody necessarily would verify it at that time, so we’re looking at this as a significant improvement to what we currently have,” Gary Bradbury, a risk management specialist with SMMUSD, said of the sign-in process at schools.

Two visitor management systems are currently being piloted in Santa Monica schools. LobbyGuard, installed at Santa Monica High School, received complaints due to technical malfunctions. The Raptor Technologies’ system at Lincoln Middle School garnered favorable reviews—their system will likely be implemented at all schools should the board vote to approve the move at a future meeting. 

Regardless of the choice, the digital check-in systems would change the current process. Visitors would have to present a driver’s license or some other form of identification; they would then be presented with a visitor badge with their photo on it. Additionally, the digital system would allow office staff to immediately detect flagged or banned visitors. 

Santa Monica activist Ann Maggio Thanawalla raised privacy concerns to the board and asked what would happen with the data collected from the digital record of visitors.

Several board members emphasized the plan wasn’t intended to monitor students’ every move.

Malibu Board Member Craig Foster said that while the No. 1 priority was keeping kids safe, there was no way to completely secure the campuses. He pointed to a need for perimeter security to both keep unwanted people out and monitor student safety at crucial places on campuses.

Board Member Jon Kean likened the direction of the discussion to an episode of “CSI: Criminal Scene Investigation.”

“This is a plan to monitor schools, not monitor students,” he said, adding: “This is about creating a safe environment for our school—making sure that people who should not be on our campuses do not have access to our campuses.”

Additionally, board members requested meetings be held with students and families to gather their input. The district safety committee, which discusses safety improvements to campuses, includes former Malibu High principal Dr. Mark Kelly and Pathways Director Isaac Burgess; no other Malibu-specific representatives sit on the committee.

The school board asked staff for details regarding security costs beyond the initial year of implementation. Once staff gathers the information, the item will come back for a vote at a future meeting.