"From the moment we learned about Ring The Bell Fund's mission, we wanted to help," said Tom Wirth, a Menlo-Atherton High School graduate who now serves as Facebook's facilities operations manager and board member of the Ring the Bell Fund. "Their commitment to keep our schools and communities safe aligns with Facebook's interest in being a good neighbor. We also want to encourage other businesses, community partners, and potential donors to help fund this need across the state."
The Ravenswood City School District will be the first to benefit from the donation. Menlo Park Fire Protection District director Virginia Chang Kiraly created the nonprofit late last year in the wake of two fires at local schools (Beechwood School and Belle Haven Elementary) within 13 months. She also studied the issue as foreperson of the 2008-09 San Mateo County civil grand jury.
"Parents all over California assume that our schools are equipped with automatic sprinklers and monitored fire alarms. Many are not and don't have to be legally," Ms. Chang Kiraly said. "There are gaps in the current state legislation that leave our schools vulnerable to fires and other safety issues that could cause a school fire."
As the Almanac reported in September, state law doesn't require monitored fire alarms or sprinklers in portable classrooms like those Beechwood has used since 1986, despite long-standing efforts by both the fire district and former state assemblyman Ted Lempert.
The Beechwood fire burned for hours before a neighbor called it in. The blaze wreaked an estimated $400,000 in damage to the private K-8 school. A monitored alarm that alerted the fire protection district could have had firefighters there within minutes, according to Fire Chief Fire Chief Harold Schapelhouman.
The Ring the Bell Fund launch, held at Facebook's Willow Road headquarters, featured a panel discussion on how to improve school safety and ways the nonprofit could fill the funding gap. Participants included Mr. Lempert, Fire Chief Schapelhouman, East Palo Alto Police Chief Ron Davis, and Ravenswood City School District Superintendent Maria De La Vega.
Ms. Chang Kiraly expressed appreciation for community partners, such as Facebook and Alston & Bird, which has provided legal services.
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