An air of crisis pervaded City Hall Thursday evening as city, school and police officials discussed what to do amid reports that three guns have been found at or near San Leandro High School in the last week.
The meeting was originally scheduled in response to an incident last Friday in which a student in a 10th grade classroom was found to have had in his backpack.
The session took on added urgency after San Leandro Police reported Thursday that twice this week they have responded to incidents near the high school that involved .
"I'm feeling this need for us to respond vigorously," said San Leandro Unified District School Board President Morgan Mack-Rose. "I really feel the need for some kind of surge at our campus."
Many measures to increase safety were aired during the two-hour session, including the use of metal detectors, drug-sniffing dogs, a tougher truancy ordinance, more counseling and parent outreach and having students show ID cards upon entering the high school.
School and police officials will continue the discussion at a community forum scheduled for Monday, Sept. 19, from 7 to 8 p.m. at the High School's Arts Education Center.
School Superintendent Cindy Cathey said weapons and student safety "are now at the forefront of my mind in a way they were weren't before."
If the gun found on campus last Friday was the wake-up call, the near the high school raised the level of alarm.
The most recent occurred at 7:41 a.m. Thursday morning when, according to police and school district reports, high school security officials approached four students at a bus stop across the street from the school after receiving reports that they were smoking pot.
At least one student fled, dropping a backpack in which officials said they later found a loaded firearm. That student has been taken to Juvenile Hall.
Thursday morning's incident followed a case that occurred after school let out on Monday.
On that day police were called to the 7-11 Store at the intersection of 136th and East 14th Street where students congregate after classes.
According to police reports, a former San Leandro High School student named Dashawn Garland allegedly pulled a gun on a current student who had hugged a female friend.
Police said Garland, an 18-year-old San Leandro resident, was subsequently arrested and has been charged by the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office with assault with a deadly weapon.
The spate of gun incidents began last Friday when a 10th grader was escorted out of class for refusing to give a teacher his cell phone. He was later found to have a loaded gun in his backpack as well as some marijuana, and taken to Juvenile Hall, police said.
Sitting around a table at City Hall Thursday night, officials confronted the challenge that has been made apparent — thankfully without a shot being fired — of keeping guns away from classrooms.
"We're talking about changing the culture of the school," said Police Chief Sandra Spagnoli, noting that the student involved in the bus stop incident apparently felt no risk of discovery in carrying a gun in his backpack, just like the student last Friday.
"The kid came to school thinking he could get away with it," she said.
Mayor Stephen Cassidy noted that marijuana was involved in both incidents and asked whether a push to keep marijuana off campus might also keep weapons away.
"What about drug-sniffing dogs?" he asked.
Spagnoli said she thought that would turn students against police.
The idea of bringing in metal detectors came up more than once but Spagnoli was cool to that idea as well.
"We don't want to be a Fort Knox school," she said.
"I understand you don't want a Fort Knox," Cassidy said at one point during the discussion. "You also don't want the Wild West."
City Councilwoman Pauline Cutter, a former school board president, said one quick and relatively easy security step might be to require students to show their ID cards when entering campus.
She suggested that would directly affect students and begin the culture change that everyone agreed was necessary.
City and school officials told Spagnoli that they would work with her to beef up the city's truancy ordinance which, while not directly related to guns in classrooms, was seen as another enforcement measure to change student behavior and perhaps prevent major transgressions later.