New chain link fencing and wrought iron gates greeted students and parents returning to Ralph Dunlap, Patterson Road and Olga Reed elementary schools for the 2019-20 school year Wednesday.

Though there have been no issues with the district's open campus construction, Orcutt Union Superintendent Debbie Blow said the district began to re-evaluate their policy after passing Measure G, a $60 million bond, during November 2016.

"For years our campuses were wide open — anyone could come in it any time," she said. "Our practice and policy was asking people to stop at the office and get a visitor pass before going on to campus, but that was on the honor system."

Blow said students sometimes "run off campus for one reason or another," but concerns for student safety began to grow. After successfully erecting a prototype fence and gate at Alice Shaw Elementary last year, the district opted to tap into more of their bond funding to expand it to the three new campuses. Work at each site kicked off the day after school let out and wrapped up at the start of the week.

"Out top priority is safety," said Blow. Visitors to the three campuses now have to check in with the main office before making their way on campus. "During instructional days when students and staff are on campus, we want to be their first line of defense."

Dunlap Elementary principal Joe Schmidt, who was tasked with locking and unlocking the gates before and after school, said the first day with the gate went "very smoothly."

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"It was much smoother than I thought," he said. "I thought parents would be a little bit frustrated not being able to get on campus as easily, but I think they appreciate the increased safety of having to go through the office to get on."

Parents like Christopher and Sarah Garcia, who relocated to Orcutt last week and recently enrolled their son, Mateo Ray, in first grade, said the newly installed security measures make them feel more at ease with the new campus.

"It makes me feel a lot more comfortable," said Christopher, a former U.S. Navy and Air Force airman. "I'm highly security conscious, so for me, especially with all the stuff that's going on in the national news, this is good."

Though it was somewhat tough for Mateo Ray to leave his friends and teachers behind, the lively youngster said he enjoyed playing on the zipline and making mystery juice from two secret ingredients (Sprite soda and Gatorade) on his first day. A big factor in their relocation: the proximity to Los Angeles. At age six and-a-half, Mateo Ray is a card-carrying member of the Screen Actors Guild who is slowly racking up credits in short films and other media.

"There was no way we could do it up there," Christopher said, "so we visited the Central Coast, found this great community and decided this is where we're moving to."

Reach reporter Mathew Burciaga at 805-739-2205 or mburciaga@leecentralcoastnews.com. Follow him on Twitter @mathewburciaga


Education Reporter

Mathew Burciaga is a Santa Maria Times reporter who covers education, agriculture and public safety. Prior to joining the Times, Mathew ran a 114-year-old community newspaper in Wyoming. He owns more than 40 pairs of crazy socks from across the globe.