Austin-area public schools, which began classes the week of Aug. 15, conducted security checks, emergency trespassing drills and staff training ahead of the 2022-23 school year with a sense of urgency, local district officials said.
Following the May 24 shooting at Robb Primary School in Uvalde, which left 19 pupils and two teachers dead, officials said safety and security had become a top priority.
Gov. Greg Abbott released a set of mandates to the Texas School Safety Center on June 1 that school districts must implement by September. These requirements included conducting a smaller-scale safety audit over the summer, training all staff on safety procedures, and implementing random Texas School Safety Center intrusion audits. on all campuses.
CIOs in Austin, Round Rock and Pflugerville updated safety and security measures this summer on all campus campuses to identify loopholes where a security breach could occur. All three districts also have police chiefs who began their tenure in July, leading their own police departments through security drills ahead of the school year.
“I want to ensure [parents] that we will use all possible resources to ensure that their children are safe on campus. If children don’t feel safe, they can’t learn,” said AISD Police Chief Wayne Sneed.
To enhance security on campus, AISD has seven law enforcement officers assigned solely to the school patrol division, Sneed said. All PfISD staff wear identification badges and participate in drills, said Tamra Spence, PfISD’s director of communications.
Officials from all three districts said they want to make sure students can continue learning without feeling the stress of campus security and police. RRISD contracted Navigate 360, a security auditing company, to conduct security audits ahead of the reopening of schools in mid-August.
“We’ve actually kind of instituted an innovative model of policing [at Round Rock ISD] this has already been recognized nationally where safety is obviously our top priority,” said Jenny LaCoste-Caputo, Head of Public Affairs and Communications at RRISD.
Safety measures in schools
Additional security measures include the addition of surveillance cameras, bulletproof glass, magnetic locks, vestibule doors, door locking systems and more law enforcement officers.
LaCoste-Caputo said RRISD focuses on teacher training and thorough background checks, especially for security clearance when someone requests access to enter a school.
PfISD also uses secure entrance vestibules to require anyone entering a school to go to the front office, Spence said. AISD uses third-party monitoring for online threats to school security, Sneed said. These tools work in concert with guidance from parents and staff.
“We are going to be much more vigilant and visible, and we have also spoken to other law enforcement partners who have agreed to help us,” Sneed said at the AISD school safety summit. August 6 on district patrol plans.
AISD has about $30 million for security vestibules, AISD Acting Superintendent Anthony Mays said. The vestibules, or entrances to the building with a double set of doors, were funded through the 2017 bond program. The district could have an additional $30 million in the proposed bond for 2022 if approved by voters .
Past Grants and Obligations
Before Uvalde, districts were updating school safety with grants from Texas Senate Bill 11, which passed in 2019 after the May 2018 Santa Fe high school shooting that killed 10 people.
The bill allocated $100 million to the Texas Education Agency to help school districts update safety. Additionally, bonds passed in 2018 in each of the region’s three districts allocated funds to update security.
With the bond money from the bond of $508.4 million from RRSD in 2018, the district has spent about $30 million of the bond to address safety issues, and most of these projects are complete, LaCoste-Caputo said.
The district’s $287 million bond package from 2014 added security vestibules, but a number of schools built before 2000 did not have secure entrances, Spence said. The 2018 bond allocated $8.6 million for security cameras, intrusion detection and access controls, and campus fencing.
Security is not the only concern of district officials. They also each have mental health plans in place.
Abbott has enacted an action plan for school and gun safety which states that early intervention of mental health issues can minimize delinquent and violent youth from a future of crime.
“It’s not necessarily a crime to be in a mental crisis. And so we don’t want to victimize someone or criminalize that behavior, but also provide understanding where it’s appropriate,” Sneed said.
At AISD, counselors are available for students and staff needing any kind of help.
“Advisors have quiet corners, brain labs; they have places where students can be regulated because we are moving through a trauma-informed lens with all of our students,” said Twyla Williams, Director of Counselling, Crisis and Mental Health at AISD.
Going forward, local school district officials said they are on high alert for safety and security no matter how well they prepare for campus life after Uvalde.
“Safety, safety is everyone’s responsibility to our students,” Sneed said. “The more eyes and ears we have, the better. [and] our campuses can be safer.