HCISD to build on security at school entrances

In the wake of a handful of fatal school shootings across the country, Hays CISD officials are starting to ramp up their efforts to improve security.

On Sept. 24 the HCISD Board of Trustees approved $205,186 for the construction of vestibules in the entryways of five schools.

Existing vestibules at Tom Green, Negley and Tobias Elementary will receive an upgrade, while Live Oak Academy and the Impact Center will receive entirely new set-ups.

Visitors are required to use the main entrance and check in with front desk staff at all schools in the district. At some campuses, there isn’t much separating staff members from visitors, especially those who may pose a danger. Locks, security cameras and protective glass barriers will be used to make the vestibules secure.

HCISD Director of Safety and Security Phillip Taylor, who was hired in August to improve standards and practices throughout the district, said the vestibules will look similar to those in the district’s newest buildings.

“We’ve learned a lot in the past several years between acts of school violence, so in addition to improving areas we need to improve, we’re also expanding safety measures,” Taylor said. “One of the things we know we need to improve are some of our older buildings.”

Glass, cameras and barriers will be installed over winter break and should be complete when students return for the following semester, said Tim Savoy, HCISD chief communication officer.

“There is not one thing that will make a school entirely safe,” Savoy said. “We’re doing a lot of big and small things that will add up to make the schools as safe as possible.”

Reports say there have been more than 20 school shootings since January 2018 throughout the country. Not including shootings, incidents of school violence are at an all-time high, which led Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to release his School and Firearm Safety Action Plan in May, an inspiration for the new vestibules.

Sarah Hodges, principal at Wallace Middle School, which has had a vestibule in place since 2015, said she and her staff have peace of mind with the locking doors and security cameras in place.

Hodges is requesting an additional camera to allow the school’s secretary to better view visitors before unlocking the door.

“Our kids are good about seeing visitors and telling a teacher to show that person the correct door,” Hodges said. “Instead of storm drills, our kids are learning active shooter drills and they’re understanding that the school wants to keep them as safe as possible.”

Additional safety measures will likely follow the construction of the vestibules and will include panic buttons for office personnel to use in place of the phone during an emergency, Savoy said.

“I’d really like to have one of those (panic buttons),” said Wallace Middle School Receptionist Victoria Rangel-Tagel. “I like having my cameras to see all doors and, if anyone is being let in, a button would make me feel even more secure in case something did happen.”

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