Ensuring safety

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David Minton/DRC
Off-duty Denton County Constable Precinct 3 deputy Billy Barnett watches as parents and students gather around in the pick-up area outside Liberty Christian School in Argyle at the end of the day Friday.

Area public, private schools take steps to implement security improvements

ARGYLE — It’s Friday afternoon at Liberty Christian School and students are taking off for the weekend.

Elementary-aged students sit along a sidewalk at a designated school pick-up area. The sounds of them laughing and talking with peers echoes through the brisk air.

Silently off behind the children stands an armed off-duty Denton County deputy constable who keeps watch over them as their names are called on a speaker and teachers escort them to the vehicles that will transport them home.

Since the students returned from Christmas break, off-duty uniformed officers, hired by the Argyle private school, have had a more visible presence on campus in an effort to deter crime, said Michelle Simms, the school’s director of advertising and marketing.

“It’s really been a very valuable addition,” she said. “Just their presence, just their automobiles out front, I think it’s great for prevention.”

A security consultant group, she said, has also been hired to review the school’s security measures and address any safety vulnerabilities.

Last December, the school handpicked individuals with law enforcement backgrounds to examine school safety and offer security recommendations.

Since the mass shooting that resulted in the death of 20 schoolchildren and six school employees Dec. 14 at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., Liberty Christian and some local public school districts have begun discussions about what can be done to ensure the safety of students and some have begun to improve security on school campuses.

While some parents at Liberty Christian said the officer visibility on campus has taken some time to get use to, they say they’re OK with it. Some parents noted how friendly the officers are and how they smile, wave and make those on campus feel comfortable.

“I think it’s a good precaution,” said Emma Shaffer of Denton. “Better safe than sorry.

“It’s smart of us to open our eyes to secondary precautions.”

The mother of two children who attend Liberty likened the school’s enhanced security measures to a home security system.

“You pray that you don’t ever have a need for it, but you’re grateful to have that safety net,” she said.

Just recently the Ponder school board unanimously approved installing a limited access entry at the district’s elementary campus.

District officials say they expect to have the new entryway at the school, in which a secure vestibule is installed and visitors must buzz in at a window and speak with a school official before being given access to enter the campus, in place by the end of March.

“It’s pretty standard at a lot of campuses in cities in particular,” Superintendent Bruce Yeager said. “That building was not built with it so we have to retrofit it.”

The district is paying $30,000 to Plano-based Gallagher Construction Services, which oversaw projects from Ponder’s 2007 bond package that included athletic and music facilities and parking lots, to install the secured entryway, Yeager said.

While district officials don’t think students at Ponder Elementary School are in any danger, installing a secured entryway at the campus provides “a more secure environment” for those on the campus and “peace of mind” for parents,” he said.

Yeager said the district is also looking into purchasing software that scans the driver’s licenses of people visiting Ponder schools.

Ponder school board President Vangee Deussen said the district has re-evaluated security procedures at all its schools and made revisions that might be helpful. When a tragedy like the one at Sandy Hook occurs, it causes people to take a closer look at security procedures, she said.

She hopes that with enhanced security features at the elementary school traffic is eliminated and streamlined.

The Argyle public school district on Jan. 29 hired Craft International, LLC, of Dallas, to conduct a risk assessment for all the district’s facilities, Superintendent Telena Wright said.

The district, she said, will pay $10,000 for the risk assessment.

In December, the Argyle school board called for an independent study and audit of the district’s safety procedures in light of the Newtown tragedy. District officials have said this is as a proactive approach to protect students.

At a Jan. 22 meeting, the Denton school board began discussing the district’s safety and security measures. It explored how the district responds to state-mandated security audits. Included in the presentation were safety measures utilized by the school district, including card access at all campuses, increased secured entrances at school campuses, increased emphasis on lockdown drills, improved visitor procedures at school campuses and increased interaction with local police.

For about 15 years the school district has partnered with local municipalities in employing full-time certified police officers who are armed and in uniform on its three high school and six middle school campuses, said Sharon Cox, a district spokeswoman. Those officers, she said, are on call to assist at the district’s non-traditional and elementary schools when needed.

Cox said that to provide a viable police presence, mostly on elementary campuses, on-duty officers have parked in the school parking lots to write up reports. They also come to have lunch with students.

The Jan. 22 safety and security discussion was the first of several slated to come before the school board throughout the spring semester, Superintendent Jamie Wilson said.

BRITNEY TABOR can be reached at 940-566-6876. Her e-mail address is btabor@dentonrc.com .


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