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Denton ISD board mulls campus safety plans, offers potential solutions

More than 1,300 miles away from Denton, students and staff members will return to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School this week after a Valentine’s Day shooting left 17 people dead.

After days of worried calls from parents and a lockdown situation at a local middle school, Denton ISD officials turned Tuesday's school board meeting into a brainstorming session as they reviewed campus safety.

“We have thought about these things,” said Bill Knight, the district’s environmental safety manager. “We’re doing the best we can with what we have to prevent these situations.”

Knight said Denton schools practice several types of lockdown drills throughout the school year to prepare for an active shooter situation. Superintendent Jamie Wilson added that each middle school and high school has a school resource officer and metal detectors on campus.

“We don’t run everyone through [the metal detectors] every day,” he said. “We have random searches by hallways at different times throughout the year.”

School board President Mia Price asked if substitute teachers were trained on lockdown protocol. Knight said substitutes undergo safety training when they’re first hired and often partner with a “buddy teacher” to help them when they’re on campus.

Each campus is also subject to a security audit every three years per state mandates. Those audits include checks on a building’s exterior, interior, portable buildings, surveillance systems and communication methods. Staff members are also quizzed on emergency preparedness, and auditors attempt to get into a school to find any loose ends.

“It’s not an everyday occurrence [to find a way in],” Knight said. “It’s an anomaly. Do we want those? No, but at least the campus sees that and can fix it.”

The results of those audits are given to the school board in closed session and reported to the Texas School Safety Center. Following the Parkland shooting, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott authorized the Texas Education Agency to publish a list of schools that hadn’t completed their audits.

A few board members offered suggestions outside of bringing more security equipment to campus.

Barbara Burns advocated for more anti-bullying programs in schools, while Jim Alexander said the district needs to maintain its relationship with local law enforcement agencies. Denton County Sheriff Tracy Murphree made his position on active shooter situations clear in a letter posted to the agency’s social media accounts.

"We do not stage and wait for SWAT, we do not take cover in a parking lot, and we do not wait for any other agency," Murphree wrote. "We go in and do our duty. We go in to engage and stop the shooter and save lives.”

Board member Doug Chadwick suggested forming a student committee that could point out any “cracks” in campus security.

“There may be a role there for students to assist in identifying weaknesses, not to publicize or make a big deal of them, but they might find things that we’ve missed,” he said.

A few miles down the road from Denton, Argyle ISD has seen its fair share of national media attention as President Donald Trump advocates for armed teachers. In the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting, Argyle was one of several districts that started allowing teachers with a concealed-carry permit to carry guns at school. Those teachers have to undergo additional safety training as well as a psychological evaluation to participate.

Wilson said he doesn’t see Denton ISD arming teachers anytime soon. If anything, the district would hire trained professionals with a tactical background, he said.

“I believe our teachers get into education to make a difference for children and not necessarily to do the police work of that,” he said. “There may be individuals we’ve employed that may be able to make that decision to use deadly force. I’m not sure that that’s all teachers, and I’m not sure that’s a responsibility that all teachers should want or have.”

Two parents voiced their own concerns during the public comment portion of the meeting.

David Harshman said he received panicked emails from his 14-year-old son when Crownover Middle School was placed on lockdown last Friday because a bus driver overheard a student talking about a gun on the bus. Police found no weapons on the student, but Harshman said there needed to be a better way to notify parents.

In fact, the district is adding text alerts to its school messaging system to better alert parents in an emergency situation. Parents should receive a text message to sign up for the service on Thursday.

Parent Matt Marsh said he wants to help in any way he can to keep his community safe, whether it's donating money for added security or sharing his expertise from his time in the military.

“I want to do something about this,” he said. “I don’t want to see one of our children on a stretcher. The idea that it could happen has to be dispelled. If we don’t do something, we have to make the assumption that it will happen.”

CAITLYN JONES can be reached at 940-566-6862.