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Heritage Primary School planning forum to address school safety

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Posted: Monday, August 29, 2011 12:00 am | Updated: 7:34 am, Thu Sep 1, 2011.

Work orders have been submitted to replace outdoor locks and install non-reflective glass at Heritage Primary School as a result of an uptick in recent gang activity.

Meanwhile, a community forum has been set for this week to discuss how to make the school even safer. Parents and area residents are invited to speak with Lodi Unified School District administrators and Lodi police chief Mark Helms, according to school principal Maria Cervantes.

"Heritage is basically in the line of fire," she said regarding ongoing turf wars between the city's rival gangs. "We need to share ideas and ask for help."

The outreach is in response to an Aug. 12 school lockdown because of a drive-by shooting in the area.

When an after-school program leader heard several gunshots across the street from the school's main office just before 5 p.m., she rushed some 50 students into the cafeteria where they hid under tables for more than an hour.

The children remained there until police came to the school and informed them it was safe. Parents had already been called to inform them of the situation and have them pick up their children.

Teenagers standing at the corner of Eden and Garfield streets had been fired upon. Although no one was injured, bullet holes could be seen in several vehicles, police said at the time.

Although the Friday afternoon was the first in several years for the school, Cervantes said the incidents of violence and vandalism in and around the school have escalated over the past year. She took her concerns to the district school board last week where she told trustees 20-year employees who were once never afraid to come to work now are.

Every Monday, there is new graffiti on the walls and gang symbols etched into the windows. Some glass has been broken out and both classrooms and offices ransacked.

"It's not only about our students and our school; it's about our families," Cervantes said Tuesday, adding that they don't allow their children to play outside and stay in the back of their homes always ready to dive under a table.

"We are living in times that are bringing us challenges not anticipated by architects or engineers of the 1960s or '70s."

Among those are a campus with an inviting entry way a low fences Cervantes said even she can jump over.

The district is working to apply an anti-reflective coating to windows, install inside classroom locks as the doors currently can only be secured from the outside and drill peepholes into the doors of portable classrooms. They also plan to place emergency kits is those classrooms since there is no running water inside.

Cervantes said Assistant Superintendent Art Hand has visited the school to review additional changes that may be done to continue to focus the safety there.

Meanwhile, a private security officer looking for suspicious activity is walking the campus daily with a direct connection to the police should an emergency arise, according to Cervantes. She said his presence is providing peace of mind.

The school originally opened in 1977 at the site of the former Garfield School built on adjacent Flora Street in 1923. However, the building was deemed unsafe and demolished in 1975, according to historians.

Contact reporter Jennifer Bonnett at jenniferb@lodinews.com.

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