Ice House

Months After the Uvalde Shooting, How Are Texas Schools Protecting Kids?

Houston-area schools reassess school safety after the Robb Elementary School tragedy.

By Stephanie Bartels September 14, 2022 Published in the September 2022 issue of Houstonia Magazine

Image: Allison Vu

Bouncing around on social media (as such things do), there’s a widely shared image of actor Ken Jeong squinting at a tiny piece of paper with a heading that reads, “a list of people I trust with my kids.” What makes it funny (like so many other memes) is how relatable it is. There are not many people we tend to feel comfortable leaving our little ones with.

However, when they reach age 5 or so, we sign them up to be watched by others for the next 12 years. After an often-tearful first day of school, it becomes routine, and eventually you drop your kids off without giving it a second thought. That is, until the deadliest school shooting in the state’s history happens only 4.5 hours away.

In the wake of the tragic May 24 killing of 19 children and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, school districts in Houston and surrounding areas are making major changes and reviewing procedures currently in place to ensure student and teacher safety. Houston Independent School District (HISD), the largest school district in the state and the eighth-largest in the US, is responding in hopes of helping parents feel safer dropping their kids off at its 274 schools.

“I am a superintendent entrusted with the hope and promise of your children being safe and learning on an everyday basis,” HISD Superintendent Millard House II said at a press conference on May 25. “But first and foremost, I’m a dad, and I’m a dad of a fourth-grade student as well as a junior in high school. And as we know, these [Robb Elementary] students were in fourth grade, so it hits a more emotional place knowing that these students are just like my son that comes home daily.”

HISD uses the Sandy Hook Promise Say Something App, which allows for anonymous tips and access to counselors in 26 different languages.

According to House, HISD uses the Sandy Hook Promise Say Something App, which allows for anonymous tips and access to counselors in 26 different languages. The app also provides information on how to look for warning signs of threats, how to act immediately, and how to tell a trusted adult about the concerns.

Ahead of the 2022–23 school year, HISD approved a $2.3 million budget for the purchase of weapons and armor to fully equip district police officers in case of active shooter situations. In addition, HISD police regularly participate in active-shooter training with real-life scenarios and share safety best practices with campus administrators so that there’s a coordinated effort on security. 

“Our officers are well prepared, but we can never prepare enough, so we consistently keep doing what we need to do to ensure that,” HISD Assistant Chief Lucretia Rogers said at the press conference. “We rely on our students, staff, and all the community members to let us know when there are dangers in the community. We ask that you report any suspicious activity, whatever it may be, so we can mitigate the situation.” 

As part of the 2019–21 School Safety and Security Grant, several HISD school sites received upgrades to perimeter fencing, security cameras, and server capacity to increase video storage capacity. HISD police and school administrators survey the campuses throughout the day to ensure that doors leading into and out of the buildings are securely locked and not propped open. The district also conducts annual lockdown drills to practice established procedures and has ongoing and regularly scheduled safety committee meetings to review safety policies. 

Other districts around Houston, such as Klein ISD, have approved additional police officer positions, and all construction projects related to safety and security have been moved to top priority in 2022 in response to the Uvalde tragedy, according to Justin Elbert, Klein ISD’s executive director of communications. Cypress Fairbanks ISD has several safety measures in place, including student identification badges that must be worn from grades 6 to 12, and a requirement that students use clear backpacks. In addition, the district has 110 commissioned police officers, including two mental health officers.

Even with all that preparation, it’s still a trying time for parents. 

For Amritha Ravindranathan, who is sending her child off to school for the first time (although her 5-year-old daughter has been in day care before), there’s an extra layer of anxiety as someone who came here from Dubai 10 years ago.

“I have lived in many countries around the world, but this is the first place I’ve lived where guns are such a big issue, and our schoolchildren have become victims of that situation,” Ravindranathan says. “That’s not something I can solve, but I’m making a choice to give it a try and go through the experience. We’re going to see how it works.”

Ravindranathan wants her daughter to experience the relationships that come from attending school with her neighbors, and she’s feeling a little more secure after learning about the updates at several schools, including her daughter’s. 

“It sounds like a lot of the schools have amped up or will be amping up their security measures,” she says. “As a mom, I really feel like I’m taking a chance right now. I’m trusting the system. It causes me a lot of angst, but I’m choosing to trust that things will be fine.”

*Suspicious activity in Houston schools should be reported to the HISD police dispatch center at 713-892-7777, or dial 911.

HISD Safety Management Program

HISD’s safety regulations require each campus to abide by its Safety and Risk Management Program, some provisions of which include: 

Secure Campus
The principal will establish a “closed campus” by designating only one entrance and exit for anyone entering or leaving the school.

Sign In and Out of Building
All visitors, including parents, must sign in and out at the school office. Any unauthorized persons on campus will be asked to leave and can be charged with trespassing if they refuse.

Secure Administrative Offices
Office staff will keep doors locked and will not admit any unauthorized personnel in the event of disturbances around school administrative offices.

Secure Classrooms
Teachers whose classroom doors open to the outside are advised to keep them locked at all times, provided the locking mechanism does not require unlocking action to exit the room. Any room that requires an unlocking action for exiting purposes should not be locked while occupied.

Building Security
A building security checklist will be completed by a building security committee and approved by the building principal three times a year. The checklist and plan will also be part of the school’s Emergency Preparedness Plan. 

 

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