STOCKTON — For one month now, students and school staffs nationwide have dealt with a very basic question about the safety of their campuses.

In the aftermath of the Feb. 14 massacre at a high school in Florida, and after decades of such horrors across the country, including in Stockton, it has become hard not to wonder, “Could it happen here?”

But that fear was made just a bit more real following two recent incidents involving students at Venture Academy, a K-12 charter school with 1,600 students that is operated by the San Joaquin County Office of Education.

First, on Feb. 26, Stockton police arrested a 14-year-old Venture student after staff reported the boy was planning to commit a shooting at the school. Eleven days later, Venture staff received an anonymous email about a 16-year-old male student who allegedly was having similar thoughts. He, too, was arrested.

Principal Kathy Focacci said Monday that in the aftermath of the two threats, her staff has been encouraging students and parents to share their concerns and to have their questions answered concerning safety at Venture.

“I think we are all feeling the results of the horrible event (in Florida),” Focacci said. “But I feel like the feedback we’re getting from teachers is that (students) know we have taken care of the two situations that have come up in the best way possible. We have given the message that we want this to be talked about.”

Jeremy Sinclair, one of four counselors at Venture, added, “If a student is feeling uncomfortable, left out or upset, this is a school that has a climate where they can feel free to say something about it.”

Several Venture students agreed Monday when asked about all that has happened at their school in the past month.

“I don’t really feel paranoid about attending this school because I know that staff members work hard to make sure we’re safe and they handle every situation with grace and elegance and make sure we’re also informed,” said Dorian Mendoza, 16, a Venture sophomore.

Sophomore Dulce Gonzalez, 15, added, “I didn’t feel insecure (after the recent arrests of classmates). I knew this school is a safe school.”

One aspect of making students and staff feel secure has been to remind them of Venture’s existing safety plans, both for in-school incidents and for cases where an outsider intrudes on campus, as was the case in the Florida tragedy. A recent addition has been the requirement for all staff members to wear identification badges, Focacci said. She added that discussions soon will be held to determine in what areas the school can still “tighten things up,” and she said students are continually encouraged to contact trusted staff members if they are concerned about something on the campus.

Staff members also continually remind students who are “feeling uncomfortable, left out or upset, that this is a school that has a climate where they can feel free to say something about it,” Sinclair said.

It was like any other day as school let out Monday afternoon, with students milling about talking and joking and waiting for their rides to return them to their homes all around San Joaquin County. Sophomore Cynia Manning, 15, said one of the things she has appreciated most of all has been the openness of staff in informing students quickly and accurately following the recent incidents.

“At other schools, (students) hear about these things on the news or on social media,” Manning said. “At our school, they share with us right away. At our school, they don’t wait until tomorrow. Tomorrow is never (taken for) granted.”

 

Contact reporter Roger Phillips at (209) 546-8299 or rphillips@recordnet.com. Follow him at recordnet.com/rphillipsblog and on Twitter @rphillipsblog.