Security Questions Loom Large for Pali High Trustees

By MATTHEW MEYER | Reporter

Palisades Charter High School transitioned to a new security services company last week, minimizing the upheaval by selecting a plan that’s similar in both cost and coverage to its previous company and largely retaining the same set of on-campus guards.

But difficult questions about the balance between safety and the value of an open campus drew at-times contentious debate at the school’s October Board of Trustees meeting, and more decisions are expected soon.

The new company, World-1 Security Specialists, will bring new resources and training practices to a familiar staff.

“It’s worked out pretty well,” Director of Operations Don Parcell said of retaining their existing guards. “They start to get a rhythm and develop relationships with the faculty and the staff and the students.”

Pali’s Board of Trustees voted on Oct. 17 to enter the contract with World-1, retaining a nearly identical level of security on campus at roughly the same cost as their predecessor.

But not before a vote failed to invoke a more expansive, “24/7, 365” option from the company, which would have increased the number of hours that guards are present at the school at an estimated cost of $84,000 to $87,000.

That option was denied in a 3-5 vote, disappointing proponents who cited recent vandalism to the school’s pool and the 2016 incident in which racist graffiti shook the campus among reasons to ramp up security.

Opponents of the more expansive option cited concerns about the increased cost and doubts about the added security’s necessity and effectiveness.

But the discussion isn’t over, as the board agreed to study the options and re-visit expanded coverage at its Nov. 7 meeting.

And a school-commissioned security analysis from World-1 has brought other issues to the fore.

Chief among them, the report noted Pali High’s lack of perimeter fencing along Bowdoin Street and the school’s parking lot, calling it “imperative that [Pali] erect fencing that will allow for the main campus area to be locked up overnight.”

World-1 representatives at the meeting called fencing a “must-have,” adding that the school’s open campus was rare by current standards.

But some board members balked at the idea of entirely fencing in the school, including teacher David Carini, who touted the mental benefits for students of attending an open campus.

“We need to strike a balance between protecting our students and creating a welcoming environment,” he told fellow trustees, adding that it was important for students not to feel “like they’re walking onto a military base.”

Those comments came in regards to both the fencing and other suggested changes from World-1, including the implementation of electronic IDs for students.

Other board members voiced strong support for the increased measures.

“It’s too open a campus,” asserted parent representative Robert Rene.

“Why not take a balanced approach to this?” he continued, arguing that “philosophical” concerns were impeding practical solutions.

And Principal Dr. Pam Magee signaled a strong willingness to implement expanded security, despite acknowledging the potential pushback from students and faculty who find it too restrictive.

The school already makes expansive use of security cameras, which World-1 praised in their report for modernity and effectiveness.

Whether more perceivably dramatic changes are on their way, like a gate across the school’s historically open face, remains to be seen.