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School safety top of mind for state leaders: Attorney general calls out districts failing to meet safety requirements
In light of the Newtown, Conn. tragedy, schools nationwide are double-checking their security parameters. Some in Texas, according to the Texas School Safety Center (TxSSC), should have done so before the shooting.
The TxSSC, a central location for safety and security pertaining to all independent school districts and junior college districts in Texas, reports that 38 of the 1,025 public school districts required by law to submit safety audits have not done so, and that another 40 reported but did not meet full compliance.
“Proper preparedness and safety in our schools is not just an exercise; it will save lives when seconds count,” said Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, a TxSSC board member, in a release Monday. “While we are saddened by the tragedy in Newtown, we can’t let another second tick by without getting school districts prepared to encounter the same type of situation in our state. My office will continue working with the Texas School Safety Center to ensure that every school district across this state has an effective school safety plan in place.”
The Texas Education Code requires public schools to conduct safety audits once every three years. Through regular audits and emergency procedure practice sessions, schools and surrounding law enforcement agencies are better prepared to act, Abbott said. Included on the list of school districts that have no safety audit on file with TxSSC are DFW-area Valley View ISD and Melissa ISD.
As the state’s chief law enforcement official, Abbott says he remains fully committed to ensuring students are protected. Such assurance, he says, comes from preparation encouraged by TxSSC and consistent campus security evaluations.
“Having a plan is important, but executing that plan under stress – when seconds count – is critical to saving lives,” he stated in the release. “Texas schoolchildren must be safe and secure. The difference between life and death frequently hinges upon how educators and law enforcement respond in the seconds before and after a violent incident. Campus security audits provide crucial information about the proper response during disaster situations.”
McKinney ISD also released a statement in reaction to the Dec. 14 events at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, insisting the children’s safety and security are top priorities and emphasizing that it works in close partnership with the McKinney police and fire departments in developing security plans and preventive measures.
“Anytime a situation like this happens, you always reevaluate your response plans and security measures at each campus,” said Cody Cunningham, MISD chief communications officer. “But it’s something we work on, on a continuous basis. We’ve had ongoing meetings with the police and fire departments every month for the last several years, and we have safety audits throughout the school year.”
Campus safety measures include building-access security, controlled visitor access and identification requirements, staff and student lockdown drills each semester, district and local law enforcement agency response plans. Such measures are under constant review, MISD officials said.
In its statement, released Friday evening after the Newtown shooting, MISD officials stated that the school district performs “extensive security audits at each campus” and that the “campuses and district employ a comprehensive crisis response plan…to provide an inviting school atmosphere, while at the same time maintain the highest security possible.”
Greg Hill, currently the school district’s security director, visits campuses to make sure their enforcing proper security measures, including those related to locking systems, the facility and even lighting, Cunningham said.
Additional measures such as metal detectors and increased police presence at schools are sometimes up for discussion after events like Friday’s, but they’re not likely to be implemented in many Texas public schools given statewide budget cuts to education.
“Most districts have determined that metal detectors are ineffective; it wouldn’t have prevented what happened at Sandy Hook,” Cunningham said. “Of course if we had unlimited resources, we’d want to employ all of those things, but we don’t.”
McKinney ISD shares with the city the cost of providing on-campus school resource officers, funding half of the positions. Until recent cutbacks in the city budget, there was an officer at each of the five middle schools and at each high school. The McKinney Police Department chose to put the middle school officers back on patrol, thus leaving two officers at McKinney Boyd and one each at McKinney North and McKinney High School.
After this week’s reevaluation of campus policies and procedures, Cunningham said, the MPD has decided it will again assign five additional officers to serve each middle school beginning next month.
But, like the TxSSC which was created in the aftermath of the Columbine High School shooting in 1999, MISD and other school districts will also focus on other, more personal ways to reduce youth violence and promote school safety.
“We’re still looking at other things to try to make our schools safer; it’s always a work in progress,” Cunningham said. “We continue educating students and promoting the idea of reporting rumors and suspicious behaviors, things of that nature. Students can be our biggest assets in preventing these kinds of tragedies.”