Texas schools tighten security policies

Public, private schools implement changes to make students safer on campuses and beyond

Mia Terminella, staff reporter

Senior Vivian Williams shows off her clear bag she bought specifically for McCallum football games to comply with the news AISD Athletics regulations. Clear bags can be purchased from the football booster club. Photo courtesy of Williams.

In response to the fatal shootings last semester in both Florida and Texas, schools across the country are updating and improving security features on campuses to ensure student safety. AISD is no different. Public organizations in Texas are increasing their security budgets, hiring more police officers, creating new safety positions and examining whether to set up an additional police department specifically dedicated to the mental wellness and safety of students.

“All our officers are trained in crisis intervention, crisis response and mental health,” AISD police chief Ashley Gonzalez told The Shield. The police team is introducing one of Gov. Greg Abbott’s safety recommendations in response to the Santa Fe shooting. “I Love You Guys,” a standard protocol with different law enforcement agencies, is now being used as a blueprint for how the department will respond to threats in the future. In June, Gov. Abbott released a comprehensive School and Firearm Safety Action Plan. The plan suggested changes such as increasing the number of school marshals, coordinating with the local law enforcement, performing behavioral threat assessments, instituting mental health first aid, and requiring additional school safety training. Gov. Abbott has identified substantial funding and other resources to support his plan and ideas.

All our officers are trained in crisis intervention, crisis response and mental health.

— AISD police chief Ashley Gonzalez

The Senate Select Committee on Violence in Schools and School Security released a final report with recommendations for possible regulations. The committee was formed after the deadly school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas. Senators had four charges: improving school design to improve security, studying school security options and resources, studying the root causes of mass murder in schools, and examining whether to consider “Red Flag” laws to temporarily remove firearms from a person who poses a threat to themselves or others.

Senators on the committee, however, did not recommend moving forward with the ruling to add “Red Flag” laws in Texas. Instead the lawmakers made several recommendations to improve school security such as metal detectors and “hardened” entrances. The committee also looked for ways to make school counselors more available to students and for methods of additional mental health training to school employees.

When the most recent school bond was passed in 2017, $26.6 million dollars were dedicated for life safety and police equipment updates across the school district. At McCallum, the required use of IDs, new door policies and clear bags for football games are just some of the updates from the district. Other upgrades include updates in security cameras, fire alarms, radio and dispatch and basic systems. Although these bond measures were in place before this year’s fatal school shootings, AISD informed parents and students that the district’s safety policies need to extend beyond the school campuses. Officials say they want the students not only to be safe but to feel safe. The Texas school shooting in Santa Fe was a tragedy that prompted an outpouring of grief and outrage. The shooting immediately drew condemnation nationwide. Hitting close to home, the shooting is what prompted many schools around the state to further update their safety protocol and school security. The Santa Fe shooting was the 16th school shooting in 2018, being the highest number at this point in any year since 1999.

As of 2017, a review of the mass shootings list shows that private schools have been spared from large-mass scale shootings. Florida’s gun law reform, involving the expansive school and public safety programs, excluded private schools. If there is anything we have learned from previous attacks, it is that these senseless acts of violence can happen anywhere, for any or no reason at all.

If there is anything we have learned from previous attacks, it is that these senseless acts of violence can happen anywhere, for any or no reason at all.

Many local private schools, such as St. Andrews and St. Stephens, have instituted gated campuses in which going through security and showing ID is necessary. Security at these schools was instituted in response to the public school shootings in 2016, and updated due to the recent shooting at Parkland High School. Charter schools in San Antonio will now be required to use clear backpacks only for this school year, and traditional backpacks will be banned. The San Antonio district announced that these efforts were in response to the May shooting at Santa Fe High School. Austin charter schools have also launched a series of campus improvement plans directed to student safety.

The Texas Education Agency developed a campus improvement plan, whose goal is to bring focus and safety to all campuses in the state. Schools are channeling focus on not just the physical, but the psychological and emotional safety of students.

“We will continue to work together with our students, families, staff, community and law enforcement partners to create campuses that not only are safe, but that make our students feel safe,” AISD Superintendent Dr. Paul Cruz in an email to district families said.