Scott Ball / Rivard Report
In the wake of a Florida school shooting that claimed the lives of 17 people and injured at least a dozen more, San Antonio public schools continue to institute safeguards against potential threats to students.
Wednesday’s shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, was the 18th incident of 2018 where a gun was discharged on a campus or school facility, according to Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun-control advocacy group. Nine of these incidents involved intentional attacks, three were accidental gun firings, and two were suicides with no attempt to harm others.
The New York Times reported there have been 40 active-shooter incidents in U.S. schools since 2000.
One recent school shooting occurred in Texas, when a 16-year-old student at Italy High School, south of Dallas, opened fire Jan. 22 in the school cafeteria, shooting another student in the neck and abdomen.
The school safety issue gained urgency after the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, when a gunman killed 20 schoolchildren and six adults. Since then, San Antonio schools have added protections to individual campuses.
“Everything and everyone is vulnerable,” said North East ISD Chief of Police Wally McCampbell, noting that the Florida high school had security guards, resource officers, and other safety precautions in place. “It still happened.”
High schools present particular challenges because of the many entrance and exit points created by both the size of the student body and the school facilities. Even though all high schools have one central check-in point where visitors and parents must undergo a Raptor background check that screens for sexual predators, there are other ways individuals can get into a school, McCampbell said.
Elementary and middle schools are easier to secure because they tend to be contained within one central building and entry point, McCampbell said.
Southside Independent School District, with a population of roughly 5,500 students, invested more than $800,000 over the last school year to upgrade security, spokesman Randy Escamilla said. These efforts upgraded all campus buildings to be compliant with “lockout mode,” which prohibits anyone from entering a facility without permission from the receptionist.
Escamilla said intercoms are now in use at each building for this purpose. Southside ISD also installed 300 new security cameras district-wide and upgraded the alarm system. The 10 officers on Southside ISD’s police force are all certified and trained in active-shooter scenarios.
Southside ISD’s lone high school is planning further emergency response drills in the wake of the most recent school shooting. Teachers are being briefed on how best to protect their students during safety threats.
“It is the reality of where we are today,” Escamilla said, adding that security and education go hand-in-hand now more than ever before.
“You do need to be prepared for these events because they are happening with greater frequency,” Pre-K 4 SA CEO Sarah Baray said. Pre-K 4 SA serves approximately 2,000 young students across four different San Antonio facilities.
Baray said it is important to start thinking about security from the facility standpoint. Even in Pre-K 4 SA’s Southside location, which shares a location with corporate offices, administrators can’t go onto the school campus without showing proper identification.
Parents are held to the same standard, Baray said. Pre-K 4 SA explains security protocol to all parents and guardians during orientation, stating clearly that anyone entering a campus must show proper ID and state a valid purpose before being admitted.
Northside ISD has also taken steps to further secure its campuses from security threats. If approved, roughly $10 million from its 2018 proposed bond package will go toward installing bullet-resistant materials in 44 elementary campus lobbies.
Funds from the 2014 bond paid for such security lobbies on 30 campuses. All new elementary campuses in NISD are being built with security lobbies.
NISD spokesman Barry Perez said some needed upgrades are as simple as replacing hardware on doors at older campuses. NISD, which serves a student body of more than 104,000, has made a concerted effort to improve door locks so teachers don’t have to exit a classroom to secure the door.
While NISD stages lockdown drills at least once a semester and evacuation drills monthly, it does not practice active-shooter scenarios.
Perez said it is all about building “a culture where staff and students recognize that safety is a concern.” For NISD, that means not just bringing up safety concerns following major incidents.
Roughly 7,000 cameras are in operation across all of NISD’s 119 campuses and additional district facilities. Perez said each camera’s feed can be accessed by campus and district administrators and members of the district’s police force.
In addition, district police officers monitor campus activity in person. Two officers are assigned to each high school, and one is assigned to each middle school. An officer is also placed in charge of a cluster of elementary campuses, with each cluster containing about nine elementary schools, Perez said.
Perez, a former middle school principal, emphasized the need for balance in communicating safety precautions to students.
“We have to be mindful that we are dealing with children,” he said, stressing the importance of not frightening students who may not fully understand active-shooter situations.