Liberty Hill ISD has hired a new police chief and is continuing to invest in security upgrades, keeping the district on track to meet the requirements of a new school safety law.

“We have met all compliance requirements the [Texas Education Agency] has put out through [House Bill] 3, and if we haven't completed those projects, we're in the process of,” LHISD Chief Operations Officer Mark Willoughby said in an interview with Community Impact.

What you need to know

House Bill 3 has required school districts to have an armed security officer at each of their campuses and make security upgrades to facilities since Sept. 1.

While some local districts have struggled to meet the law’s requirements, Liberty Hill ISD has been “ahead of the game” thanks to having its own police department, Willoughby said.

Almost a month after the law went into effect, LHISD hired Chris Rybarski, former Austin Police Department officer and detective, as its newest chief for the district’s police department, following the board of trustees' approval Sept. 18.

Rybarski served on APD's bomb squad, coordinated large-scale events operations and presidential visits with the U.S. Secret Service, and worked with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, according to the district. Most recently, he worked for the Child Exploitation Unit at the Texas Attorney General’s Office.

The district has had one officer assigned to every campus since the start of the school year and will soon have Rybarski and a new sergeant to move between the various campuses as needed, Willoughby said.

What else?

The district began working on security upgrades prior to the passage of HB 3, Willoughby said, creating secure entry vestibules and adding perimeter fencing around where students are most accessible.

Those results showed during a safety and security audit conducted by an outside party this spring, which praised LHISD for being ahead of the curve in its approach to school safety compared to other districts, LHISD Chief of Schools Travis Motal said at a Sept. 18 meeting. The audit commended the district as a fake intruder could not access any campuses; staff was knowledgeable about school safety; and many security upgrades had been made.

“They were very impressed with our overall safety and security plan,” Motal said. “There were a number of things that they noticed that other schools were still working to put in place that we already had in place.”

Many of the audit’s suggested improvements have already been made or will be made through funding from the district’s 2023 bond, Motal said. Willoughby said district officials will continue to work on securing all entry points, installing perimeter fencing and making technological upgrades at all campuses.

The cost

The new law gives districts $10 per student and $15,000 per campus to implement both its armed guard and facility requirements. While district's school safety allotment increased to $215,000, the funding has not covered HB 3 requirements for the district as it budgeted $1.5 million for its police department this school year, LHISD Director of Communication Rachel Acosta said.

In their own words

“Liberty Hill has always been very proactive in our approach to safety and security to our campuses and buildings,” Willoughby said. “We're always under self-assessment to make sure our facilities, kids and staff are safe. We don't take it lightly.”