Schools look at safety options

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Krum, Sanger work on upgrades; Argyle ISD considers arming staff

As discussions of school security have become more frequent throughout Denton County, districts are considering different paths for protecting students and staff.

In recent weeks, three school districts have either announced or approved action on measures to protect people on campus.

In a meeting May 16, the Argyle school board authorized Superintendent Telena Wright to begin talks with local law enforcement officials and potentially draft an agreement for hiring a school resource officer. The board also authorized Wright to develop policies that would allow school personnel and officials to carry firearms. Both actions must go back to the board for approval before being implemented.

School officials in Krum say they intend to spend next month putting in surveillance, communication and secure lock systems at various schools.

At a May 16 meeting, the Sanger school board approved installing card readers, remote access and audio/video verification entry systems at various campuses.

Since the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in December, district officials say they’ve revisited their own security plans and looked at ways they might prohibit and or minimize the probability of such a tragedy occurring on their own campuses.

For some, that’s meant considering whether to arm school personnel; for others, it’s looking at how to better secure school doors and communication systems.

According to a May 7 FBI article, “Addressing the Problem of the Active Shooter,” incidents involving active shooters occur in small- and medium-sized communities where local law enforcement agencies are limited in staff and have budget constraints.

Incidents in which an active shooter is present last an average of 12 minutes, and 37 percent of incidents last fewer than five minutes, according to the report. In 43 percent of shooting incidents, the criminal act ends before police arrive on the scene; in the remaining 57 percent, an officer arrives when the shooting is in progress, according to the article.

Districts’ top priority in looking to heighten security should be training faculty and staff in crisis management and safety and security tactics, said Eric Coleman, who will be joining the criminal justice department at the University of North Texas this fall.

In any crisis — whether it involves an active shooter, an aggressive situation or weather-related problems — school personnel need that training, he said. At minimum, the professor said, people responsible for the lives of children should have some form of training in crisis management to help them identify a crisis.

“The No. 1 thing that enhances our abilities to survive a crisis ... is training, and that training should be on a regular basis,” Coleman said. “Teachers have a lot that they have to prepare for every year, but crisis management and safety and security should be at the top of the list.”

The professor’s doctoral work has been in campus and safety security research, and he will return to UNT this fall to further develop expertise in campus safety and security administration, he said.

Coleman was a criminal justice professor at UNT Dallas from 2008 to 2010 before going on to Texas A&M University-San Antonio, where he served as the associate vice president for campus safety and security and university police chief until earlier this year.

On Wednesday, the state Senate gave its approval to House Bill 1009, also known as the Protection of Texas Children Act.

The bill, which is going to Gov. Rick Perry’s desk for approval, would allow public school districts and charter schools to designate a district employee as a school marshal who could have the authority to use a firearm in the event of a crisis. The bill also calls for school employees to be trained in protecting students when their lives are threatened.

Coleman said consequences could occur whether or not a public school chooses to arm its personnel.

If violence occurs at a campus with no armed personnel, some people will cast blame on the school system for not arming school personnel. They would argue that such an event could have been prevented by arming staff, he said.

On the other end, Coleman said, school systems that choose to arm staff would face blame if those weapons were to fall into the wrong hands.

He likened the situation to a medicine cabinet, which holds things for a good purpose, but also contains certain medications that could fall into the wrong hands and become a “terrible thing.”

Coleman said he’s concerned that unlike law enforcement agents, teachers or civilians may not have the training or gear to ensure someone won’t take their firearm from them.

It’s a decision every school district will have to weigh for itself, he said.

Argyle ISD

Within 60 days, Wright said she intends to bring forth for school board consideration an amended district policy that could allow school personnel and officials to carry arms on campus.

If the policy is approved by the board, trustees will then consider training to arm school staff and officials. Once a motion is approved for training, school staff could volunteer, but district administration will get the final call on who would undergo training, Wright said.

Once training is complete, the board would consider who to authorize to carry a weapon on school campuses.

Districts officials also hope to have a school resource officer in place when the new school year starts. Adding a school resource officer would cost an estimated $60,000 to $70,000 annually, Wright said.

Since December, the Argyle school district has been looking at ways to protect its students and staff. Earlier this year, the district hired Dallas firm Craft International LLC to conduct a facilities risk assessment, and last month it conducted a community forum on potential courses of action to increase school security.

Krum ISD

In June, Superintendent Cody Carroll said, the Krum school district will get a number of security upgrades, including installing cameras and a buzzer system for access at entrances, placing facility doors on a secured lock system with timed locks, and adding a public address system at the high school.

An estimated $37,000 in general funds will be used for the project, he said.

“It will give a way to regulate more readily who has access to the building throughout the day,” Carroll said.

On May 12, the district had a community safety forum, where Carroll discussed his intent to reorganize the district’s emergency management team. The district’s emergency plan had not been revised since 2007, he said.

Beginning in August, the team will look at ways to prepare for emergencies and discuss campus vulnerabilities. The district also intends to schedule emergency drills this fall, he said.

Carroll said the school board will likely discuss adding a school resource officer, but at this point, arming school personnel is not the direction Krum wants to go.

“That’s not something that we’re looking to do at this time, but it’s always up for discussion,” he said at the forum, which was attended by more than a dozen people.

Tragedies like the shooting in Connecticut could happen anywhere, said Lisa Dickson, a parent from Krum. Every day before school, she prays for safety with her daughter, a high school freshman.

Dickson said she enjoyed learning about some of the district’s planned security measures.

“I think everything will be helpful,” she said. “I think our kids can never be too safe.”

Matt Guest, the father of two Krum students, said the community forum was a “great first step,” but that he’d like to see it expanded to include a voice for first responders. Guest is a police officer, but he attended the meeting as a concerned parent.

He said Carroll is “quite right in doing everything ... to reduce the risks to our kids, but realistically, the threat isn’t as common as a lot of people will believe.”

Guest said he was happy to see that the superintendent was open on the issues that need work and that he’s in favor of security upgrades the district intends to make.

“These are very much productive ways of addressing the security issues without apparently going way over budget,” he said.

Sanger ISD

The Sanger school district intends to spend an estimated $138,000 in general funds this summer for security upgrades at its high school, middle school, sixth-grade center, Clear Creek Intermediate School and Chisholm Trail Elementary School. Superintendent Kent Crutsinger said he expects the upgrades will be completed by the 2013-14 school year.

He said he understands some people may be put off by the changes, but he believes it’s money well spent.

School board members approved the upgrades at a meeting earlier this month.

Prior to spring break, the district conducted a climate and safety survey of teachers, parents and students in grades six and above. Jackie McBroom, outgoing assistant superintendent for educational services, said he was pleased that a majority of respondents said they felt safe in Sanger schools.

However, Crutsinger said, some safety vulnerabilities were found in the district’s last security audit. Making the improvements will provide a safer environment, he said.

“I think it’s going to provide a sense of safety for not only our students but our staff and community,” Crutsinger said.

Board President Ken Scribner said district officials want to do all they can to ensure Sanger schoolchildren are not hurt on their watch in an instance that could have been prevented.

“I’m not saying Sandy Hook created it, but it did bring some awareness,” he said. “I just feel like it’s what we’ve got to do in this day and time. I hate it.

“But I just feel like we have to do [something] to keep our kids safe.”

The district already has a school resource officer, Crutsinger said, and he’s not in favor of having armed educators on campuses.

Elsewhere

School officials with the Lake Dallas, Pilot Point and Denton public school districts and Liberty Christian School, a private school in Argyle, all say they, too, continuously look at ways to enhance school security.

Since the tragedy in Connecticut, Liberty Christian has modified its emergency response plan and increased the practice of lockdown procedures. Also, the school board has formed a safety and emergency response team to look in-depth at security options and campus vulnerabilities, and it has hired off-duty officers to watch the campus, said Michelle Simms, a school spokeswoman.

Dan Gist, assistant superintendent in Pilot Point, said that within the past year, the district has installed a safety wall with a one-point entry through the office at the elementary campus, fencing and a one-point entry for visitors at the middle school, and a security system with cameras at the high school.

In the last year, Lake Dallas finished implementing an electrical lock system and upgraded its radio system to improve communication, said Wes Eversole, the district’s deputy superintendent. He said the district also has a school resource officer, and it conducts fingerprinting and background checks on staff. He also said the district is looking at ideas for making entryways more secure.

Jamie Wilson, superintendent of the Denton school district, said in an e-mail that the district will “review and modify as necessary the elements of our internal security audits, and will discuss such topics with our trustees in late summer.”

The district partners with local law enforcement agencies in providing school resource officers at its secondary schools, and as a result of a 2007 bond referendum, secure entry vestibules were installed at district elementary schools and retrofitted at middle schools, he said.

BRITNEY TABOR can be reached at 940-566-6876 and via Twitter at @BritneyTabor.

 


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