Leander ISD works to bolster safety practices with bond projects, local partnerships

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As Leander ISD dives into the new school year, district personnel are working to improve emergency preparedness on campus.

Brad Mansfield, senior executive director of student services for LISD, said the district wants to ensure the training for emergency situations is consistent across schools.

“We found in talking with students across the district that not all of them knew what do in a lockdown,” Mansfield said.

Seven percent of LISD’s $454.5 million, voter-approved bond package from last year is scheduled to be used for safety purposes over the next several years. The district’s 2007 bond package included the construction of secure vestibules at all elementary schools, and now the 2017 package is set to fund vestibules at all high schools, alternative schools and middle schools where vestibules are currently not in place, according to district documents.

In addition to ramped-up training practices and security upgrades, the district’s new director of security started in July to serve as a liaison between LISD and local first responder agencies, fostering relationships to better plan for emergency situations.

“The key is, you don’t want to introduce yourself [to first responders]during the incident,” said Russell Bundy, the new director. “You want to know these faces before.”

SECURING CAMPUSES

Mansfield said in the upcoming year, the school community will see him and Bundy walking around school campuses assessing security, such as checking doors and where teachers are on duty. They will then provide feedback to the campus principal and work to create an action plan to implement the suggestions.

“The principal’s got a big job. … We’re trying to make their job easier [by]checking on things to make sure the kids are safe,” Mansfield said.

The state requires a safety and security audit every three years, and the next one must be submitted by all school districts to the Texas School Safety Center by Sept. 15, 2020, according to the center’s website.

“[As] part of those safety audits, [Bundy] is going to start keeping a running checklist on some data of things that probably need to be considered for improvement, things like security cameras,” Mansfield said.

He said the district is evaluating adding more security cameras to the high schools and middle schools.

LISD has also implemented a camera-and-buzzer entry system at some middle schools where secure front entries have not yet been installed. Under the system, visitors must look into a camera and push a button, then the receptionist buzzes them into the building, Mansfield said.

The camera-and-buzzer system is a temporary solution until secure vestibules are installed. With vestibules in place, visitors entering a school must enter through the main office, where a receptionist must buzz them through a second round of doors. This differs from the camera-and-buzzer system where the receptionist buzzes visitors through the first and only set of doors.

The district’s 2017 bond includes approximately $9.87 million for the construction of secure vestibules at the middle schools and around $7.75 million for the same at the high schools and alternative schools, according to district documents. Additional bond funding is allocated for other safety purposes.

Corey Ryan, LISD’s chief communications officer, said the vestibules were under design and planning this past summer, and construction will take place next summer.

MAINTAINING A POLICE PRESENCE

LISD has had interlocal agreements with neighboring law-enforcement agencies for 20 years, according to district documents. The agreements provide the district with school resource officers—trained Cedar Park, Leander and Travis County Sheriff’s Office law-enforcement officers stationed on campus.

While the district directly works with those three agencies, there are several others that could respond to emergencies on campus, such as the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office and the Austin Police Department.

Bundy said his role includes working to build relationships with these groups.

“You can have a critical incident happen at any of the schools, and you’ll have possibly all … of those law-enforcement agencies show up,” Bundy said.

David Rodriguez is a school resource officer from the Cedar Park Police Department and said he works hand-in-hand with the district to address any issues related to drug use, theft, student fights and more.

He said he wants students to come to him or their own school resource officer about anything they hear or see that does not seem right or if something concerning has happened to them personally.

“We want them to come forward,” Rodriguez said. “If they’ve been assaulted or they’ve been threatened or they’ve had things stolen … since we’re in the schools, it’s a lot easier for that communication to come to us direct[ly]… and we can handle it right then and there.”

REPORTING A THREAT

When students feel threatened or become aware of issues such as bullying, dating violence or weapons on campus, they can reach out to an officer or other administrator or adult. Parents and children may also submit an anonymous report at www.anonymousalerts.com/leanderisd.

Mansfield said there is a threat-assessment system the district uses to determine how to handle each concern. If the threat is perceived as imminent and/or valid, it will be directed to law-enforcement agencies, Bundy said.

Ryan said the district has an “insider process” to communicate with parents when there is a safety threat at a school. He said district administration works with the school’s area superintendent to use email, phone calls and text messages to communicate an imminent safety threat. Parents may also check the LISD alerts page as a central hub for up-to-date information, he said.

District counselors are the primary ones who monitor the alert page online for anonymous reports, Mansfield said. He said last year a counseling position was added to all LISD high schools.

Cedar Park resident and LISD parent Bethany Burnham told Community Impact Newspaper on
Nextdoor.com that to improve safety at schools, she wants more mental health resources for students. She said children need preventive treatment and education such as stress-reduction techniques and mindfulness.

“I don’t want metal detectors or armed guards,” Burnham said. “I want more mental health information for the general population of students.”

PRACTICING WITH DRILLS

To standardize training across campuses this year, LISD is screening videos on emergency drills to teachers, staff and secondary students, Mansfield said. In previous years, assistant principals would provide the information to their campuses, which could result in inconsistent training between schools, he said.

“We want the public and parents to know what kids need to do in these drills so they can talk to them at home about it as well,” Mansfield said.

He said students and teachers need to be prepared for different safety protocols, such as an evacuation or sheltering for a tornado.

Rodriguez said the Cedar Park Police Department would like to implement active shooter drills for students, but the district has not been receptive to the request.

However, LISD does practice lockdown drills, which involve locking classroom doors, turning off all lights, covering windows and hiding, he said.

“[Lockdown drills are] all fine and dandy, but there’s not anything after that,” Rodriguez said, such as evacuating the building if possible or fighting against a threat that enters a room.

Ryan said that LISD feels the Standard Response Protocol—which was developed by the “I Love U Guys” Foundation and includes the emergency responses lockout, lockdown, evacuate and shelter—is adequate at this time.

For more education news, please see all of the local stories from our education focus edition.

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Abby Bora
Abby Bora started at Community Impact Newspaper in May 2017. After working as a reporter, she became editor of the Cedar Park | Leander edition in October 2018. She covers Leander ISD and city government. Bora graduated from Johnson & Wales University in Providence, R.I. with a bachelor’s degree in media and communications studies.
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