Church of the Highlands, a private K-8 school in San Bruno, will bring armed guards to campus in response to recent mass shootings around the country. (Brendan Bartholomew/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Private San Bruno school hires armed guards

A private school in San Bruno has brought armed guards onto its campus in response to concerns about mass shootings.
Church of the Highlands, which operates a nondenominational K-8 Christian school, has contracted with The Kingdom Group, a San Francisco-based security firm, whose plainclothes agents now discreetly patrol the school with guns hidden under their clothes.

Kingdom Group spokesman James Vierra said Church of the Highlands is the first school to hire his company, which normally protects corporate clients.

Vierra acknowledged guns on campus might be controversial, but said they were part of a broader approach in which the guards embed themselves in the school community, winning the trust of students and helping address various needs on campus.

For example, Vierra said, Kingdom Group personnel recently noticed the school’s basketball hoops were missing their nets, and made the needed repairs.

“The weapon, for us, is just a tool,” Vierra noted.
Pastor Jeff Scoch, who is in charge of the school, declined to comment, and has apparently instructed staff not to speak with reporters. Last week NBC Bay Area broke the story, airing footage of undercover guard Manny Sanchez reluctantly lifting his shirt to show his firearm to the camera.

To some viewers, Sanchez’s gun might have appeared to be inappropriately stuffed into the waistband of his pants. But Vierra said that was not the case, and his employee was actually using an inside-the-waistband holster designed for concealed firearms.

Vierra emphasized his agents’ qualifications, claiming many are ex-cops or ex-military, and have received far more extensive training than the average security guard.
“The average security officer has 40 hours of training, and their job is to observe and report,” Vierra said, “We are a respond-and-investigate firm.”

Despite the recent media coverage, the school appears to be taking a low-key approach, enough so that some Church of the Highlands parents were unaware of the armed guard program before The San Francisco Examiner asked them for comment.
One such parent was Marianne Barretto, who indicated she would need more information before she could form an opinion.
Another parent, who asked to remain anonymous, said she had heard about the program, and supported it.

“Absolutely, it’s an extra sense of protection, and any parent in their right mind would want to ensure the safety of their children,” said the mother, who has one student at Church of the Highlands.

Parent Michael Bucker echoed that sentiment, and predicted school shootings will continue to periodically plague the nation.

“Of course I think as a parent, anybody would appreciate this added level of safety,” Bucker said, “What happens — and what’s going to happen in many places — it’s terrible.”
It’s still unknown whether other schools on the Peninsula will follow Church of the Highlands’ example.

San Bruno Park Elementary School District Associate Superintendent Sean McGinn said nobody in his organization has advocated placing armed guards on campuses, and such a change would probably have to be state-mandated.

In nearby Daly City, Jefferson Elementary School District Superintendent Bernie Vidales did not rule out the possibility, but said it was unlikely.

“My sense is that there isn’t the will for this in the community,” Vidales noted, “Nobody wants anybody with a gun anywhere near children.”

Nancy Magee, who has a leadership role in the countywide Coalition for Safe Schools and Communities, and is also an associate superintendent with the San Mateo County Office of Education, expressed skepticism about Church of the Highlands’ program.

“It takes more than an armed guard to make a school safe,” said Magee, who claimed a better option is having local police departments provide schools with on-campus community service officers.

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