OPUSD takes steps toward district-wide safety measures

Benioff and Pentis detail plan for school safety


August marked the beginning of the second year of in-person learning after the COVID-19 pandemic. As the school year kicked off, everyone was caught up in new class syllabi while administrators reminded students of school rules.

When listening to introductory school year talks, students may have felt that school safety was condensed other than the standard reminder that no weapons are allowed on campus. For many, this is troubling.

“I was concerned by the minimal instruction we received regarding school safety, especially in the aftermath of so many school shootings,” said sophomore Kavya Mehta.

Education Week’s school shooting tracker reports that as of Dec.13, there have been 36 deaths from 48 school shootings in 2022. This number is double that of 2019’s recorded shootings.

“These are planned events. It’s not like a young person wakes up in the morning and decides,” said Mr. Randy Pentis, a retired Ventura County Sheriff and Oak Park Unified School District’s safety consultant. He has trained schools and given safety training for over 35 years.

From all this experience, Pentis garnered one special piece of over-arching advice.

“I think that our best weapon to keep us safe is our mind, which is why everything I train is based on preparation, not fear.” 

Pentis has been surveying various campuses throughout the district, playing a key role in the fencing around elementary schools and more recently in the addition of lock blocks on all classroom doors. He has also been training teachers, staff, and administrators on emergency response. 

Giving students and staff the same training, he advises employing the “run, hide, fight” method.

The “run, hide, fight” method is an adjustment to locking doors. It depends on the situation and space where someone may be. If someone is outdoors or away from the shooter, the instinct is to run as fast and as far as possible. If one is too close to run away safely, they should hide in a dark, locked classroom after closing the blinds and barricading doors. Fighting is always the last resort.

“Out of all of this, when incidents have happened, 80% of people run, 10% of people hide, and 10% of people fight. I want 100% of people to be safe,” said Pentis.

Another key part of the preparedness plan is student focus groups. 

“Students know what’s going on amongst their peers, which is why we want to arrange focus groups and discuss school safety,” said Mr. Bradley Benioff, the district’s director of school safety. “Spreading awareness of issues and gathering ideas from young people is our best way to keep the spaces where they learn and grow safe.”

These focus groups would include randomly selected students of all backgrounds, identities, interests, and social groups. Students would be free to talk to their peers in a collaborative group discussion geared towards progress.

“Many students are rightfully interested in sharing their ideas towards improving school safety, and [Mr. Pentis and I] are happy to receive any emails regarding suggestions that may even lead to further, larger discussions towards positive change for the district,” Benioff explained.

However, teenage culture and pressure may be a setback in the prevention of shootings, said Pentis.

“Typically, after-action reports by the FBI find that somebody knew beforehand. But how are we raised? We’re told, ‘Don’t be a tattle tale,’” he explained. 

This builds on a phrase echoed around campuses: if you see something, say something. Many teens stay quiet about obvious signs or even take them as a joke, much like what occurred in the Robb Elementary School shooting in Uvalde, Texas. The teen shooter gave online signs to peers that he was planning something for months, but all of them were brushed aside as jokes.

Pentis explained it: “What if we have someone going to commit a violent act? We get information from peers and we are able to get them the right help. Aren’t we doing the right thing for this young person, getting them on the right road and protecting those around them? All of this comes from simply telling someone if you are concerned.

School safety is a critical topic of discussion in an age where school shootings are growing more common. Although students shouldn’t live in fear, they should be prepared. By knowing safety methods like “run, hide, fight,” reporting concerning comments or incidents, and communicating suggestions to school officials, we can all help make our school a safer community.