San Francisco Chronicle

School intruder fuels demand for changes

- By Jill Tucker Reach Jill Tucker: jtucker @sfchronicl­

“When things like this happen, it highlights just how important it is to make sure we have the basics at our schools.” Meredith Dodson, San Francisco Parent Coalition

When an intruder hopped the fence and landed in the playground of a San Francisco elementary school a week ago, teachers scrambled to get kids inside as the principal ordered someone to call 911 and announced a lockdown over classroom phone speakers.

Students had practiced what to do in such a scenario: huddle in corners and stay quiet as their teacher locked the door. But at New Traditions Elementary, as the male stranger remained on campus, not everyone heard the alert.

Some were in hallways or loud classrooms or bathrooms. They didn’t know the potential danger they faced and took no action to avert it, according to parents who relayed what officials and their children told them about the Feb. 16 incident.

While no one was hurt during the incident and police responded quickly, in an era of all too frequent mass shootings in schools, the lack of a schoolwide public address system upset the school’s community.

Over the past few years, parents and students across San Francisco Unified have pushed district officials to address the lack of a number of security features that could save lives. The issue has driven protests, walkouts and community meetings as well as frequent public comment before the school board.

Yet, what happened at New Traditions illustrate­s that the response from officials has lagged, parents said.“This is such an epic failure,” said one parent. “This is 2024. (Public address systems) are super old technology. School shootings are not new. This is the most basic, basic thing.” The parent asked to remain anonymous, and the Chronicle agreed not to identify the person under its confidenti­al source policy.

The incident at the school just north of the Panhandle started around 2:25 p.m. Principal Myra Quadros ran to the yard and found the man inside a shed. She called the office to summon the police and then ordered the lockdown, she said in a letter to parents emailed Friday.

Quadros then went around the campus to ensure everyone was aware of the lockdown and following procedures.

In the meantime, the intruder climbed a wall and made it through a window into a secondstor­y kindergart­en classroom, sending those students scrambling out the door and into the hallway.

In the hallways, Quadros encountere­d the man, who asked for help.

“SFPD arrived within a few minutes, spoke to the person, and escorted him out of the building at approximat­ely 3:30 p.m.,” Quadros said in her email.

District officials said the school followed proper protocol.

“We appreciate our school staff who responded quickly and thoughtful­ly to this situation. Fortunatel­y, no one was physically harmed,” said spokeswoma­n Laura Dudnick. “We recognize that schools need to communicat­e quickly throughout campus in an emergency. As a district we regularly make security upgrades in schools.”

District officials have acknowledg­ed in recent months that not all schools or classrooms have critical safety infrastruc­ture, including doors that lock from the inside, or so-called Columbine locks, as well as working public address systems.

“We are in the process of installing district standard P.A. systems at schools that do not currently have district standard P.A. systems,” Dudnick added.

New Traditions is on the list to get one — eventually.

Officials have also said they hope to pass a bond in November to help cover the cost of security upgrades.

The principal said in her email that since the incident she had “reviewed and updated protocols with the staff, put in work orders for areas where we need central resources, and debriefed the incident with central office staff.”

She also asked the district to check the current phone-based alert system to make sure it was working property, while assuring parents more walkie-talkies would be distribute­d to staff.

Quadros also told parents that the “internal P.A. system” was new this year, but it is not the loudspeake­r system in use at schools for decades and is not adequate to notify all students and staff regardless of their location at school, safety advocates said.

“In the horrible case that there was a school shooter intending to do harm, it would need to be communicat­ed really quickly,” said Celeste Peron, a volunteer leader with Moms Demand Action SF, a gun safety organizati­on. “There are things we know work and will mitigate the danger.”

That includes a well communicat­ed and consistent safety plan, interior door lacks and a P.A. system that works, she added.

Not all public schools in San Francisco have all those things, said Meredith Dodson, executive director of the San Francisco Parent Coalition.

“We’ve been hearing from parents for years about a variety of concerning safety issues at schools across the district,” she said. “When things like this happen, it highlights just how important it is to make sure we have the basics at our schools.”

Late Friday, the coalition launched a petition drive directed at Mayor London Breed, the Board of Supervisor­s, Board of Education and Superinten­dent Matt Wayne asking for the cost, timeline and funding sources to make that happen by the beginning of the next school year.

“These are basic safety asks to ensure our youth and educators are safe in school, and they require immediate attention,” according to the petition.

Breed responded Saturday on X, formerly known as Twitter: “We are committed to the safety of students and educators, and can use funds such as the rapid response portion of the Student Success Fund to install new PA systems or additional security measures.”

The New Traditions parent said they were still reeling from the incident with the intruder, adding that while other children were huddling in corners, their child was walking through the halls heading to art class.

“The major issue is that all of this response was not only hampered, but made more dangerous for everybody in that building because we don’t have a proper P.A. system.

“We have so many unstable people on our streets,” they added. “This is going to keep happening.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States