Suspicious calls to Clovis school test district’s new alert system, safety measures

JOHN WALKER/Fresno Bee file

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A month into the school year and students in Clovis Unified have had to shelter in place because of suspicious calls and police activity in the area of some schools.

Students continued their work as law enforcement responded and investigated and district staff tested a new campus safety feature.

Leaders and staff at the schools and in Clovis Unified School District have been using a new notification system to reduce security response time on top of its other safety measures, including a new requirement to lock all classroom doors during the school day.

The Catapult Emergency Management System, new this school year, facilitates an immediate response to emergency situations, speeding up the district’s action, according to the district.

“We want to notify people immediately and improve our communication,” Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services Steve France said in an interview with the Ed Lab.

And it’s done that.

Clovis Unified spokesperson Kelly Avants said district and school officials are now able to see things in “real time.”

“We’ve seen where the immediacy of getting information to staff allows us to speed that response time,” she said.

CUSD’s new measures began on first day of school

Through Catapult, communication is sent to all relevant people on the school and district safety teams who can initiate a lockdown, shelter-in-place or other measures from anywhere, even remotely. That eliminates the additional time it takes to identify all the needed parties who have to be contacted. And the information is accessible to everyone on those safety teams rather than it being isolated to some members.

The program’s digital platforms allow two-way communication between staff and the school site safety team, allowing the school to account for the number of students, staff and visitors in each class.

Teachers and administrators can also report suspicious activity either on the app- or web-based platform. So a teacher who witnesses something outside can report it from his or her phone.

When there is a lockdown on a school campus, Catapult sends an automated announcement over the school’s intercom system and alerts to the safety teams, to law enforcement and to emergency medical response teams as well as proximity alerts to area schools and notification to the transportation department so no bus goes to a locked-down school.

The notification system improves the way CUSD responds, so there aren’t any immediate changes in the district’s safety plans, Avants said.

Families and students may not notice the internal system being used, especially because the alerts aren’t automated to families. Instead a CUSD administrator steps in and communicates what is happening at a school so that the communication has context and includes the latest information.

There have been parent concerns discussed at board meetings about the alert system, such as parent Lindsey Beavers saying, “By the time an alert goes out, something has already probably happened.”

But based on staff’s ability to report suspicious or potentially dangerous situations, it’s not only after something happens but can be a preventative measure.

“None of our practices went away,” France said. ”We just added to it.”

Catapult is an “added layer” to Clovis Unified’s own police force of 16 sworn officers, partnerships with the other police departments, CUSD’s own dispatch and over 1,800 cameras that police can access in emergency situations.

The Fresno and Clovis police departments told Clovis Unified that locking classroom doors is “the single best defense” against danger because no intruder has ever breached the doors and neither can the police – when they are locked.

Clovis now requires staff to lock doors as it considers auto doors

As of the first day of school this past August, Clovis teachers are required to lock their classroom doors throughout the day.

Locking classrooms doors had been a debated requirement since at least the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting, Avants discussed with the Ed Lab.

Clovis Unified is exploring exterior doors that lock automatically, yet automated systems have time delays, ranging from seven to 10 seconds — time that someone could possibly get to and lock the door faster, district leaders said.

The district is considering wireless capability, battery life of the doors and whether kids may be locked in or out.

If and when it happens, the automatic doors can be a part of the Catapult system.

With their layers of security, if there is an active shooter, Clovis Unified would initiate Catapult, instruct staff to Run, Hide, Fight – the same as Sanger Unified staff are trained on and is being implemented for student training. Law enforcement would be contacted, but the CUSD police would be first on the scene with the objective to take the shooter out, France described. In the meantime, parents would be notified.

“It’s an emotional topic, but it’s something that we take seriously,” France said.

Clovis Unified does active intruder training for district staff at the start of the school year. Local police departments were impressed because not all school districts have specific drills for an active intruder, France said. And in CUSD, the training wasn’t sparked by the Uvalde tragedy but something the district has done before, according to France and Avants.

“If we can save 10 seconds or 20 seconds by locking a door quicker, we may have saved a life or two,” France said. “We wanted to get a message out quicker. We wanted to communicate more effectively. We wanted to know who is in our classrooms. And we want to be able to document it.”

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