MISSION – With rumors of student security concerns at Sharyland high school surfacing this week, school administrators are taking extra precautions to ensure the safety of the children here.
In the wake of the recent school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, they are also taking a closer look at their schools and security measures at all campuses for the long term.
"9/11 changed the world," said Board Member Rolando Peña. "The event last week is going to change security for schools like 9/11 did."
Dr. Virginia Richter, superintendent, said she spoke with principals this week about current safety and security measures that are already in place. After that meeting she spoke with administration about what the district might need to do to improve security.
Part of that is revisiting the crisis management handbook and working with staff to conduct inservices and trainings on what schools would do if there were a bomb threat, or anything else at a campus, she said. Richter is proposing bringing the author of the handbook to the district to conduct trainings for principals, and then the principals can teach their staff.
"Unfortunately, it takes an event like what happened in Connecticut to kind of be that slap in the face that we need to be more vigilant," said Richter.
Board Vice President Fred Ramirez asked if there was a protocol where, if something were to happen, teachers would secure their classes in their classrooms and lock the doors.
Richter responded, saying lockdowns are practiced twice a year. What she wants now is for law enforcement and fire department personnel to assist with those lockdowns and come in to offer them suggestions on what could be done to make the task faster, easier and more efficient.
Ramirez told board members he would like to see a meeting held with fire, police and emergency responders in the municipalities Sharyland ISD schools reside in to see what response times are and what the district needs to do to be prepared for any type of situation.
Currently, the district employs armed Mission Police officers as extra security at their secondary schools, but do not have any police officers at their elementary campuses. Because of last week's events, the district is considering permanent officers at the elementaries.
As another security measure, the superintendent said by January 22, she wants to make sure every employee, every person that is supposed to be on each campus, has a name badge and wears it at all times. If someone is on a campus without a nametag, they will need to be escorted off campus, she said.
Dr. Noel Garza, board secretary, said he wants to make sure their surveillance cameras catch people as they are coming onto campus. The Raptor system and current surveillance cameras are working at the campuses, but what more can be done?, he asked. The district currently has 160 cameras in place.
The Raptor system is used to scan every visitor's identification before they are allowed on campus. The visitor IDs are used to crosscheck with a DPS database of criminal and sex offenders. Once they are cleared, visitors are issued a nametag to wear while they are on the campus. The nametag displays the visitor's name, picture and date of the visit.
Ricky Longoria, assistant board secretary, said he would like to see more physical barriers around their schools, such as taller fences in the back of schools.
"Where do we move forward from here for the safety of all of our kids," said Richter.
Garza said the district should update their website, as well, to inform parents about safety procedures that are being implemented, and to provide updated contact information. They should get parents to update their emergency contacts as well.
Another safety measure the schools already have in place is that most of the elementaries have two sets of doors at the front entrance of the school. Visitors have to check in with the secretary before proceeding through the second set of doors.
At some of the schools, visitors must be buzzed in before entering the first set of doors.
Longoria said this works, as long as the threat is coming through the front doors. He wants to make sure other doors are locked and secure so they do not provide an access to unwanted visitors.
The district will be looking at each individual campus and taking suggestions from principals on what other safety measures might need to be implemented at their schools.
"What would you do to secure your campus?" said Ramirez.
Board members will be developing a subcommittee that will work on security issues . The proposed subcommittee will dissect each campus systematically to see what it has and what it might need.
Because of the recent events, multiple school districts have been receiving rumors of violence planned for today. Although the rumors have not been substantiated, SISD is taking them seriously and is not allowing backpacks or bags to school today. Extra security will also be on hand to ensure added safety.
Savannah Rendon, a junior at Sharyland High School, said the rumors instilled a lot of fear in everyone, but it is nice to see the extra security in place.
"I feel like our school is taking a lot of precautions," said Rendon. "But I'm pretty sure they can't watch every single person."
"But it's just a rumor."
McAllen Independent School District was facing similar rumors with McAllen High School not allowing backpacks the rest of the week.
All schools were continuing with classes as scheduled despite the rumors.