As state lawmakers take a closer look at improving school safety, so are Longview-area districts.
Some, such as Spring Hill, are investing large amounts of funding into technology. Others, such as Pine Tree, are looking at improving safety not only in its buildings, but on buses.
Spring Hill trustees recently approved spending $400,000 to upgrade safety technology on campuses. Director of Technology Steve Hardy said the district will replace 287 cameras, 12 with facial recognition at entrances.
“It’s not to track people, students or anything like that,” he said. “It’s basically if somebody has been trespassed on our school we can have their picture in there, and we’ll be alerted when they enter.”
Access also will be changed on 35 doors that will be opened with proximity cards instead of keys.
The cards can be turned off remotely, so if a teacher loses a card, it can be shut down so someone who finds it can’t get in the building, Hardy said.
Superintendent Wayne Guidry knows the technology needs to be updated, but he said that’s not the only component to safer schools.
“It’s two-fold. One, it’s the hardware; two is the mental health side, which we intend to be very aggressive with this next year,” he said. “I think it needs to be a two-fold approach, and we’ve taken measures this last year. We’ve hired an additional counselor that comes into our district to work with our kids on the mental health side.”
The increased focus on students’ mental health and its connection to school safety also is a part of Senate Bill 11, which passed the Senate this past week and now is in the House.
According to The Texas Tribune, the bill specifically aims to strengthen mental health services in public schools that would equip employees, including substitute teachers, to respond to emergencies. The training also would establish threat assessment teams to identify potentially dangerous students and intervene.
“I feel confident that they’re going to require districts to have safety committees. What I would like to do is turn our safety committee into the mental health side of it as well,” Guidry said. “I would like to have counselors part of that safety committee where it’s a balanced conversation all year.”
Longview ISD officials are considering supplying clear backpacks to all students as a new security measure.
And although some parents recently received fall school supply order forms with the phrase, “All grades will be allowed to bring their own backpacks” crossed out and other parents received a notification through a classroom smartphone app that said, “No outside backpacks are allowed. LISD will purchase clear backpacks for all students,” the policy has not been approved.
Elizabeth Ross, district spokeswoman and district safety team member, said it appears some teachers “jumped the gun” on sending those messages to parents.
While a clear backpack policy was on the school board’s agenda at the April 15 meeting, the item was tabled because Superintendent James Wilcox wanted to meet with more principals to discuss the matter.
If the item is on the board’s next meeting agenda, which is not yet available, the district also could possibly approve the purchase of backpacks to provide to students, Ross said.
Ross also said Longview ISD is taking other measures to increase security for students, such as including substitute teachers in future safety training.
Additionally, SB 11 is on the minds of officials, and Ross said the district wants to be prepared for its passage.
“We don’t want to lose students to mental health issues, to suicide; we want to make sure we’re protecting our students,” she said. “At the end of the day, our jobs are to protect our students and provide a safe environment, and having a plan in place for students that need that extra help emotionally is important.”
Pine Tree ISD
Jack Irvin, director of security and transportation at Pine Tree ISD, said safety extends beyond the perimeters of district campuses. In fact, he said the biggest threat to students that residents can prevent happens every day — motorists ignoring warning lights on school buses.
“That’s the biggest problem that I can see right now that I think threatens kids, is motorists illegally passing buses,” he said. “We report each one of them to Longview PD every day. There’s considerably a big number.”
All district campuses now have single point access, Irvin said. But the campuses still practice drills to ensure staff is prepared for any situation.
The district also received a grant and used some district funds to buy supplies for classrooms on the primary, elementary and middle school campuses, Irvin said. The “to go bags” have supplies such as glow sticks, bandages and other items in case of a lock down situation.
Irvin said the district always is looking for improvements. One of those is the Stop the Bleed program, which Irvin said he wants to continue to grow.
The program trains staff members on how to help in a bleeding emergency before medical professionals arrive.
“It’s a program that trains us in field triage. About 100 of our staff members were trained last summer, and we anticipate doing more this summer,” he said. “Law enforcement’s objective if somebody’s going to hurt kids in our building, they’re going to go find the bad guy. But we need to train our staff to protect and preserve lives.”
Superintendent Jeff Collum said his staff has taken on a school safety mindset. He said the last three years have been crucial for safety at the district.
In 2018 year, the district hosted a regional school safety forum with about 110 participants from about 10 school districts.
The district will host a similar forum July 31, he said. One of the scheduled speakers is the police chief at Santa Fe ISD, where eight students and two teachers at the high school were killed by a gunman in May 2018.
A speaker from the Texas School Safety Center in San Marcos also is scheduled to attend the forum.
Hallsville ISD also is in its second year of the Guardian Program, which allows certain staff members to carry concealed handguns on campuses.
“(The program) allows individuals that are trained with specific legal training requirements to carry a gun on campus with the intention of defending our students and staff,” Collum said.
The number of staff members who have concealed handguns on campuses is confidential, as are their identities, he said.
Collum said every day presents a new challenge, and school safety concerns are changing in unprecedented ways.
“I think in general, schools today always have to look and be more proactive than we’ve ever had to be,” he said. “I feel like in the last three years, we’ve taken tremendous strides, so I’m pleased with where we are, but also want to continue to move forward.”