Friday, September 15, 2006

Sighting of cougar spurs CA school alert

By Neil Nisperos/Staff Writer

A mountain lion was seen in the playground at Los Berros Elementary School in Mission Hills Wednesday morning before children began arriving for school, said Jess Bass, director of student and information support services for the Lompoc Unified School District.

Parents were notified by a letter and school officials closed the majority of the playground to children. It will remain closed for the time being, Bass said.

“We'll ease off (on the playground closure) as long as we don't have a sighting,” he said. “We are still keeping a close eye on this.”

District officials called the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office and the Department of Fish and Game to investigate. They also sounded an alert to other school officials in the Burton Mesa area, near Los Berros, to be on the lookout for the animal, especially with children outdoors in area bus stops.

Bass said a maintenance worker at Lost Berros saw the mountain lion at about 7 a.m. in the rear portion of the playground, which lies below a wilderness area, he said. The mountain lion is estimated to weigh about 100 pounds, and is not a fully grown adult, judging by the size of its tracks, he said.

In the event of a mountain lion breaching campus grounds during a school day, Bass said, the procedure is to lock down the school with students inside classrooms until authorities have the situation under control. He said it was the first mountain lion sighting on a district campus in many years.

“Safety for students is a major concern here,” Bass said.

Los Berros is near La Purisima Mission grounds, where mountain lion sightings have been recorded in recent weeks.

Neil Nisperos can be reached at 737-1059 or news/news03.txt

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