Public Safety & Homeland Security

Central Texas Schools Look to Beef up Security after Santa Fe Shooting

Some school districts are adding more security measures for graduation ceremonies, exploring ways to limit how people can enter campuses and training staff on responding to an active shooter.

by Julie Chang, Austin American-Statesman / May 23, 2018

(TNS) - In the aftermath of the Santa Fe High School shooting last week, Central Texas school officials are reviewing safety plans and working to tighten security, including for upcoming graduation ceremonies.

Officials with several area school districts said this week they will continue to conduct drills, including for lockdown, lockout and evacuations. They said they’ll also work with local law enforcement agencies to check school emergency response plans. Some school districts are taking further steps by adding more security measures for graduation ceremonies, exploring ways to limit how people can enter campuses and training staff on responding to an active shooter.

Eight students and two teachers were killed in the Santa Fe shooting. The accused shooter is a student at the school.

“AISD police is prepared to respond in a crisis and regularly works with outside police and safety organizations to ensure we have plans in place,” said Cristina Nguyen, spokeswoman for the Austin school district. “We will continually review our protocols and look for ways enhance the safety in our community.”

Nguyen added that the Frank Erwin Center will require graduation attendees to carry clear bags this year; the policy also applies to Eanes and Pflugerville school districts’ high school graduations at the venue. The Hays school district is requiring passes for individuals to access the floor of the Texas State University’s Strahan Coliseum where graduation will be held. Officials at other school districts such as Bastrop will add more officers and plain-clothes personnel as needed.

Securing campuses

School districts are also awaiting further guidance from Gov. Greg Abbott, who has convened a group that includes lawmakers, school officials, parents and those affected by school shootings in Texas for a roundtable discussion on school safety. He said he wants the group to explore a range of ideas, including speeding up background checks, developing strategies to keep dangerous individuals from obtaining guns, providing schools with more safety personnel and paying more attention to links between mental illness and gun violence.

Meanwhile, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has called for arming more teachers and limiting the number of entrances and exits into schools.

There is a single entry point for visitors at most Central Texas schools, but many officials are looking for ways to further limit access.

Texas school districts have not received money from the state earmarked for security upgrades, and in the face of declining state education funding, school districts in recent years have turned to voter-approved bonds to pay for constructing single-point entrances and installing cameras on campuses.

The Hays school district spent $2 million from a 2014 bond measure to reconfigure secure entrances at each of the district’s three middle school campuses. District officials are contemplating how to further beef up security at Hays High School, which is made up of multiple buildings that aren’t all locked. They are also considering contracting with the Hays County sheriff’s office for more peace officers — the district currently has 11 — which could require a hike on school taxes.

“At this point, there are a number of things on the table. We’ve done things through the years to improve security, but it’s something you always have to be on top of,” said Tim Savoy, spokesman for the Hays district.

In Georgetown, officials are considering asking voters to approve a bond proposal to pay for secure entries at the district’s two high schools. Eanes district officials also are contemplating calling a bond that would include security upgrades.

The Lake Travis school district used a chunk of its $159 million bond package in 2011 to construct secured vestibules and install network cameras at all entries. All buildings in the district require a badge for entry.

The Eanes school district expects to spend $20,000 this summer to install a system at Westlake High School that will require visitors to be buzzed in before they enter a secured vestibule. The Leander school district also will start construction on vestibules at its three middle schools this summer.

Active shooter response

School district officials have recognized that locking doors to outsiders can only do so much. The suspects in three Texas school shootings since 2016 were students at the schools where the shootings took place.

Some Texas school districts have required studentsto carry clear backpacks and prohibited certain clothing that might allow guns to be smuggled into schools. Metal detectors are rare at Central Texas schools.

“There have been resistance to that from the community because you don’t want to have your school feel like a prison, but you have to look at safety and security. There’s not going to be one answer that is fool proof,” Savoy said.

The Round Rock school district this summer plans on working with the Williamson County sheriff’s office, the Williamson County Office of Emergency Management and the Round Rock Police Department, whose chief Allen Banks participated in Abbott’s school safety roundtable discussion Tuesday, to train district staff in active shooter scenarios.

However, combating school violence calls for more vigilance, according to several school district officials who pointed to anonymous tip lines as effective tools.

“This school year, we’ve received hundreds of anonymous alerts, reporting everything from bullying, to cheating, to concern about a student engaging in self-harm,” said Jenny LaCoste-Caputo, spokeswoman for the Round Rock school district. “We follow up on every single one.”

School districts also are soliciting feedback on improving school safety. The Manor school district this year has been holding public forums on campus safety. The Georgetown district has distributed surveys to administrators asking how security can be improved.

“Each tragedy provides an unfortunate opportunity to assess our current practices,” said Melinda Brasher with the Georgetown school district.

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