School violence in the United States no longer seems to be an irregularity. Schools must now actively prepare and consider how to best protect their students.
In light of this era of vigilance, Ukiah Unified School District (UUSD) will be installing security fencing on four school campuses to establish new “layers of safety and security”, as described by UUSD Superintendent Deb Kubin.
Ukiah High School, South Valley High School, Eagle Peak Middle School, and Pomolita Middle School will have their perimeter fencing installed this summer and possibly continue into the beginning of next school year.
Superintendent Kubin said UUSD’s middle schools and Ukiah High do not have “the ability to lock a campus down in case of an emergency.” This vulnerability undermines the district’s number one goal: “doing everything we can to keep you guys protected”.
Superintendent Kubin told us the openness of UUSD’s facilities compromises the security of our campuses. She told us about times when school officials have responded to homeless people using local elementary school bathrooms and dogs running loose on campus.
Many community members, students, and staff have expressed concerns with the project. Some think perimeter fencing will change the character and aesthetic of the historically open campuses. Others cite concerns fencing could prove a barrier if evacuation was necessary.
Many critics of security fencing question why the district would prioritize the expenditure of a fence project. In fact, the responsibility for the funding lies not on the school district, but City of Ukiah voters when they passed Measure A in 2020.
Measure A dedicated $75 million towards school improvement and student safety projects. Thus far, the Bond has provided new heating and cooling systems, Ukiah High’s new soccer stadium, and will pay for the security fencing.
According to the UUSD website, the funds are garnered through property taxes from Ukiah homeowners. The district said the annual cost for taxpayers would not exceed 5 cents per $100 of assessed valuation and spending is monitored by a citizens bond oversight committee.
Doctor Analise Alvarez, Ukiah High’s new principal who will begin her tenure this July, addressed the installation of the new fencing. She told us that the nature of public schools has changed, requiring administrators to consider robust forms of security.
At her previous high school–San Marcos High School in Santa Barbara County– has had past issues with unwelcome guests on campus. Dr. Alvarez thinks that a secure perimeter is crucial to allow staff to focus on students without being interrupted by ¨outside elements¨. She recognized that fences will not stop kids from fighting or skipping class. The addition of a fence will allow staff to zero in on internal issues.
The Ukiah High News team met Gabriel Sherman, Ukiah Unified’s Director of Maintenance, Operations & Transportation, and he gave a comprehensive overview of the layout of Wildcat Nation’s security fencing.
Sherman told us the fence will be 8 feet tall with either black or green rod iron ornamental fencing. The main entrances and exits of Ukiah High will be located at the top of the staircase in front of the A building and the current bus loading zone. The back parking lot will be secured and accessible by staff only who require a key card to enter. During the school day, these gates will be closed and after-hours open to all.
Along Ukiah High School’s north, west, and east perimeters, the fencing will be more industrial in appearance securing the agricultural area, sports fields, and the perimeter along Despina. The parking lot will remain unfenced.
The fence will run along the perimeter of the large greenspace with grass and trees on the southwest of campus. Superintendent Kubin recognized many students value that space for their lunches sitting in the shade and socializing and made sure they would have access.
The fence will bring a streamlined check-in process for campus visitors. Superintendent Kubin said, “With visitors, we will want to have a better check-in/check-out system.” Policies and procedures will likely change, but the general plan as of now requires visitors to enter via the A-building and get a pass. Parents will need to check students out for appointments, etc.
With the block schedule, many students have a late start, early dismissal, or a free period in their schedules and may be wondering how that will work with a closed fence. Students will be allowed to come and go with proper clearance. Those we talked to emphasized the fence is not meant to keep students in, it’s supposed to keep unwanted danger out. There will be regularly placed exits throughout the perimeter easily accessible if an evacuation was necessary.
One of our reporters ask Sherman if the establishment of designated entrance points could pave the way for the use of metal detectors to further Ukiah High’s layers of security. Sherman told us that metal detectors are not part of current plans, but if it was, fencing would be an essential foundation to install them in the future.
Human behavior is influenced by the environment. Sherman recognized that the fencing will significantly change how students, staff, and parents interact with their environment and will take time to grow accustomed to.