The Mirror spoke with Santa Monica High School’s Chief Educational Officer/Principal Ilene Straus last week about campus safety questions that arose in the wake of increased racial tensions at the school. Tensions escalated after racially offensive graffiti targeting African American students appeared in several places on the campus on February 3. Straus said that several steps had already been taken to reduce tensions and increase safety at the school, including the “organization of regular meetings with the Santa Monica Police Department (SMPD).” She said, “The student advisory committee has requested that one police officer be on campus every day as a school resource officer who is trained to work with kids….[and] police have committed to add more school officers.” There has also been some discussion of whether metal detectors should be installed to ensure that weapons weren’t being brought on campus by students, but school officials concluded that they weren’t needed at this time. Other safety measures that are already in place include a request that all students’ identification cards be checked before they enter the campus and close monitoring of all campus visitors.“Security personnel are on campus till 6 p.m. and any events on campus have extra security,” Straus added, noting that she has the authority to authorize overtime for security “to cover the campus and events as we need it.” Also at issue is the fact that three members of her security staff are substitutes, as the District has been slow to hire permanent security staff. In addition, Straus has “reorganized the school’s custodial staff” so a second custodian is at work during the day in order to spot graffiti and “paint it off when it’s seen right away.” According to Straus, the school has found that if it “leaves the graffiti” more graffiti will follow. She went on to say that “last week graffiti was cleaned off the school’s bathrooms.” It’s a continuing problem as the campus is “wide open on weekends” and often used in the evenings.But, Straus said, responding to graffiti problems has been hampered due to the School District’s tight budget that has caused it to “cut staff to deal with maintenance, repairs and paint.” Straus is dealing with the racial tensions by encouraging Samohi faculty to “be strong” in conducting an “anti-hate campaign,” and believes the campaign will gather momentum with the addition of six student outreach specialists who were recently hired. Their primary task is to work with students and parents who need extra support. Each house now has its own outreach specialist and their race and ethnicity reflect the racial/ethnic mix of the student body. According to the October 2005 California Basic Educational Data System, 51 percent of Samohi students are white, 31 percent are Latino, 10 percent are African American and and 7 percent are Asian. Two of specialists are male and four are female. Straus believes “as the faculty comes together to own the work there will be an improvement” in the classroom, as well as an increased “sense of community among the whole school.” Straus believes that having minorities on her administrative team is important. “As openings occur we are trying to recruit diversified candidates.” Last summer, she hired a Latino house principal, stressing that this is “an important goal we need to continue to work towards.”The interview with Straus concluded with her statement that at that moment “things are calm on campus, but periodically issues arise on and off campus” that the staff has to respond to, and she and her staff are “committed to being resourceful and responsive to kids resolving issues.”
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