Friday, November 10, 2023

Questions from the Press, November 10, 2023.

I received questions from today from the Press Democrat/Sonoma Index-Tribune regarding the school board meeting for Sonoma Valley Unified on Thursday, November 9. This, perhaps expectedly, also addresses the threatened attack on our school campuses that same day. Per past practice, questions and answers are below.


1. Why did the board approve the purchase of the cloud-based security cameras?
I had successfully moved at the beginning of the meeting for us only to proceed with the bare minimum of items on Thursday. Handling the security situation and threatened shooting at the Broadway campuses of SVUSD, in partnership with the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office and various other local government agencies, had probably been the most challenging day for our teachers, classified staff, and administrators since the onset of the fires on October 9, 2017. They were physically and emotionally exhausted, and we wanted to send them home to recover.
Oz Robledo, our IT Manager, specifically requested though that we address agenda item 14-7 regarding the purchase of Cloud Based Security Cameras from Verkada, Inc. Approval of this item was initially scheduled for the consent agenda. Negotiation related to this contract has been in progress since occurrences at the most recent 'Fugitive Night' in May. Based on his request, I proposed an amendment to the agenda to address the cloud-based security cameras, leading to the Board's consideration of it.
By way of background, the existing cameras at Sonoma Valley High did not have the necessary resolution and detail to allow the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office to establish probable cause to permit enforcement action concerning those responsible for property damage to the school campus this past May. This led the Board to discuss restricting access to Chet Sharek Plaza (the location of the Dragon Statute at SVHS) by installing access controls similar to Midgley Field in the center of the campus.
Working in conjunction with Sonoma Police Chief Brandon Cutting, Mr. Robledo was able to identify a technical solution that, in the future, will permit the police to establish probable cause should events similar to Fugitive Night recur, without the need to alter the physical environment of the campus. This solution is generally favored by administrators, law enforcement, and, after the vote, I presume the Board as well, for a variety of reasons. Mr. Robledo was further aware that executing that contract would allow the cameras to become operational by the start of the 2024 calendar year. Even a week's delay could have potentially pushed the installation into the second quarter of 2024, which might mean the cameras would not be ready in the event of another 'Fugitive Night' incident. It was his deft thinking that directly led to me advancing the matter at the Board on Thursday night.
Please note that we, as a Board, were not informed that these cameras would have had a material impact on the handling of Thursday’s events in any specific way. However, I believe, as do my fellow Board members, that implementing the recommended security equipment will only enhance future responses to similar situations. Consequently, I believe it was both right and proper to act promptly on the advice from our staff.
2. What cameras have been used on the campuses and why do they need to be replaced?
The existing scope and capabilities of SVUSD's security and monitoring systems remain necessarily confidential. Such technologies are intentionally installed to guarantee the safety and protection of all our children, along with our teachers and staff. Whereas some details of existing infrastructure were discussed during Thursday's meeting, the Board usually only contemplates these details in a closed session. In the past, when we have done so, we have requested the Chief of Police to report specifically on the benefits of newer methods and the reasons they will enable a more robust law enforcement response in the future. Consequently, I respectfully decline to further discuss this question.
3. How will these cloud-based security cameras improve security on the campuses?
Our team relies upon the information provided by our classified staff and law enforcement when making decisions regarding the acquisition of security technology. They have endorsed this equipment installation, which provides them with the necessary tools to assure our community's protection. I am convinced that we, as a Board, need to ensure that our staff are equipped with the appropriate resources to perform their roles effectively, prioritizing safety across all campuses. I believe the rest of the Board concurs. Further, considering that this equipment's installation will enable us to avoid erecting additional fences, gates, walls, and access controls on our campuses, it's clear we're opting for a more effective solution that aligns with our staff’s advice.
4. When will installation begin and when will it be completed?
My understanding from Mr. Robeldo is that due to the prompt action of the Board on Thursday, November 9 the equipment will be installed and functioning as of January 2024.
5. Has the need for tightened security become an issue on SVUSD campuses?
This issue has been gaining importance for nearly a decade. The historical, legacy-based design of several Sonoma Valley campuses does not correlate with today's school design and construction best practices. For instance, no modern high school design would include a public footpath running through the center of the campus. Similarly, locations such as Sassarini Elementary were, before recent upgrades, almost completely open and accessible from nearly every direction. Consistent vandalism at Flowery Elementary used to be a regular issue for Sonoma Valley Unified before upgrades. None of these sites had incorporated additional security features in their designs, which would come as standard today. Although the District should probably have gradually invested over the decades to mitigate the situation, that did not occur. This, coupled with concerns about inefficient and ineffective sprawl brought about by many underutilized campuses, means there is a backlog of work needed to meet current requirements. The Board has marked a series of security measures as a priority in recent approval of the use of bond funds. However, there is still more work needed to elevate our schools to modern standards. This was highlighted by the facilities master plan, included in Thursday night's agenda, documenting approximately $181 million worth of essential work District-wide.
6. How will the cameras help school and law enforcement personnel in situations such as the one at Sonoma Valley High School yesterday?
As the chief of police has previously informed us, the quality of the systems being installed will allow for sufficient detail to establish probable cause, and to allow remote monitoring that will prevent SVUSD from needing to install comprehensive access controls on SVHS and other sites akin to those at Midgley Field. The precise details of the capabilities of these systems are confidential. I have confidence in the recommendation of staff regarding these systems, and I imagine the other board members do, too. 
7. School district and law enforcement personnel were deservedly praised for their efficiency yesterday. But it also seems important to look at what could have been done better. For one thing, a student at Sonoma Valley High School said that the food students were given in her class was “ inedible, moldy and expired.” Other students said they didn’t receive food. Will the district take steps to address this problem? What else could have been done better, either by the school district or law enforcement?
It has been approximately 24 hours since the initial alert regarding the situation at SVHS was broadcasted. A number of things went right. The trustees were appropriately informed by professional staff, including the Superintendent, as events unfolded. The operational security of the Sheriff's work in supporting the safety of all students, teachers, and staff, necessarily limited the amount of information that could be provided to the public during the initial stages of the emergency. This is primarily because a potential threat might exploit any information gleaned from such reports about the methods and techniques that law enforcement is utilizing to protect us all. On balance, I believe our government agencies, including Sonoma Police, the Sheriff's Office, the California Highway Patrol, California State Parks, Sonoma Valley Fire Rescue, the City of Sonoma, and SVUSD, struck the right balance. However, I will need to review the reports we receive over time to further evaluate this.
In general, as Chief Cutting pointed out, in nearly every single case, the students conducted themselves in an exemplary fashion handling the exigencies of the situation. Similarly, the teachers of VMTA worked to protect the students under their charge with exactly the type of professionalism we have come to appreciate over the years. The classified staff of CSEA similarly worked tirelessly to protect all our students, and I directed special thanks to our school office staff, our maintenance and grounds team, our information technology and transportation departments, and so many more of the unsung heroes of our District who made the comprehensive response possible on Thursday. The law enforcement officers and other first responders demonstrated exactly why we as a public are getting our money's worth from so much preparation and expense, that makes certain those who put themselves in danger for the benefit of us all are equipped to handle potentially the worst of situations.
Those of us who experienced the early, dark hours on campus on October 9, 2017, know all too well that access to emergency supplies is a recurring issue in the initial phases of an emergency. hear the concerns voiced by our students regarding our ability to sustain them during an extended lockdown. It's encouraging that the situation is an improvement over what we faced in October of 2017. However, the continuing safety risks associated with gun violence indicate that future planning may necessitate extra logistical backing. The most common scenario imagined previously I think concerned addressing a specific indivual or individuals rather than a sweeping search of the entire facility for a rifle - the reality on Thursday. These two situations have different timelines, and I expect that future planning will continue to hold the needs of both scenarios in mind. 
8. Would you like to say anything else?
The scourge of gun violence linked to our mental health crisis continues to afflict our country, and our inability to address this leads to continuing deaths of innocents on a scale unmatched by any other major industrialized nation on Earth. Our first task as parents is caring for our children. We are not as a society meeting that obligation. To end them, we must change. There is nothing playful or fun about guns. If there is even one step we can take to save another child, we must. From law enforcement to mental health professionals to parents and educators, we know we have the power to address this, that the politics are never "too hard" when lives are at risk.