by KIM HILSENEBCK
In the wake of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., local school districts are working with local law enforcement agencies to revisit their safety procedures and protocols.
“We’re always vigilant about school safety,” said Hays CISD spokesperson Tim Savoy, “but a tragedy like what happened in Connecticut brings up the worst fears. So we’re all taking another look at our plans.”
Those plans meet the standards set forth by the Texas School Safety Center (TSSC), Savoy said.
The Texas Attorney General’s Office in December released a list of 78 Texas schools that were not in compliance with TSSC standards. In a Jan. 9 update, that list has been reduced to eight schools – none in Central Texas.
Savoy said Hays CISD consistently meets the compliance criteria. That list includes procedures and policies for dealing with any number of potential threats or disasters.
“Every class has an emergency procedure poster,” Savoy said.
He encouraged parents to review it when they drop off their child at school.
“We also conduct mock drills once a semester; these include evacuation, lock down, shelter in place and severe weather,” he said.
The safety standards followed by Hays CISD are part of the TSSC’s Unified School Safety and Security Standards for Texas Schools. They were written to provide a set of criteria to help school districts develop a quality emergency management program.
Savoy said he is absolutely confident that Hays CISD students are safe. He said the district is working closely with the Hays County Sheriff’s Office, as well as the police departments in Buda, Kyle and San Marcos, to review the safety plans.
“We have had local law enforcement visit our campuses recently to re-familiarize them with our floor plans and layouts,” he said.
Savoy also credited local agencies for being prepared for most any situation.
“We’re very fortunate that we have very knowledgeable law enforcement and emergency response personnel in all of the agencies that touch our schools,” Savoy said. “They have a degree of expertise and training that is probably better than a lot of areas.”
While the safety procedures and protocols are not necessarily different post-Connecticut, Savoy said it never hurts to examine the system and look for enhancements.
“We always want to err on the side of caution,” he said.
Kyle Police Chief Jeff Barnett said his officers are conducting more routine visits to school campuses than before the incident at Sandy Hook. New officers are required to tour local school campuses, according to Barnett.
“We don’t want to cause any unnecessary panic – we just want to create a reassuring presence for campus staff, parents and students,” Barnett said.
He also said that his department is collaborating with other area emergency responders.
“We want to make sure everyone understands the terminology as well as continue to keep the lines of communication open,” Barnett said.
According to Barnett, all Kyle police officers attend Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training (ALERRT) at Texas State University. The ALERRT curriculum, developed after the tragedy at Columbine High School, has become the national standard in active shooter response training.
“They have all taken an active shooter course – it’s specifically designed to deal with someone actively shooting at human targets,” he said.
Barnett said his officers also receive basic and advanced level tactical training in dealing with tense situations including those that may involve hostages. Two of his officers, Sgt. Jacob Luria and Det. P.J. Carrasco, are part of the regional task force for hostage negotiation.
Savoy said the district and local law enforcement are reviewing a school safety program created by the I Love You Guys Foundation.
The foundation was created by the parents of Emily Keyes, who was killed by a gunman at Platte Canyon High School in Colorado in September 2006. While Emily was held hostage in the school, she sent texts to her parents saying “I love you guys. k?”
As a result of that incident, the foundation developed the Standard Response Protocol (SRP), a classroom response to any school incident.
The SRP standardizes the vocabulary and helps all stakeholders understand the response and status of the event, be it a gunman, a tornado or a chemical leak. This common vocabulary helps establish a greater predictability throughout the incident.
Savoy said local law enforcement, as well as the district, is interested in the SRP.
“We’re going to look at that,” he said. “We just need to make sure it’s compatible with what we’re already using so we don’t have to start over.”
In the meantime, Savoy said there are some things parents and students can do to enhance safety and security at schools.
He urged all parents and family members to continue to follow the safety procedures in place, such as providing a valid ID upon entering a campus.
He also said parents and students should report suspicious behavior to school administrators.
Students who reported the alleged plot of a Hays High School student last year to set off a bomb in school helped law enforcement arrest the student before he did anything, according to Savoy.
“If a student sees or knows something that could help keep everyone safe, we want them to feel very comfortable talking to a teacher or principal,” Savoy said.
Savoy said it’s also important for parents to be able to recognize any potential issues from their own children.
“Parents can report any behavior that concerns them, including from their own children,” he said. “School administrators can then determine what may need to happen at that point.”