School bonds facilitate latest district security upgrades

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High-profile incidents of violence in schools continue to make headlines, and local school districts have shown a commitment to security and emergency management on campus.

Combined, New Braunfels ISD and Comal ISD have spent upwards of $12 million on security-related upgrades in the past five years.

Both districts have implemented an array of security upgrades and have shown efforts to simplify emergency response, whether to a violent incident or a natural disaster, by using the Standard Response Protocol.

“One of the greatest challenges in a crisis is communication,” said John Michael Keyes, executive director of the I Love You Guys foundation and author of the Standard Response Protocol, during a safety and security seminar for CISD administrators in August. “When we saw there wasn’t a common vocabulary between students, staff and first responders … it was puzzling. [The SRP] gives our kids some tools.”

The greatest unknown in an emergency is fear, said Keyes, who has firsthand experience with disasters in schools. In 2006, Keyes’s daughter was a victim of a school shooting.

“If we’re afraid to talk about something, we leave the unknown on the table,” he said. “Sometimes, it’s about giving the adults in the room the tools and information to start the conversation.”

The conversation, Keyes said, is an ongoing one about school security and emergency management, and it was near the forefront of recent NBISD and CISD bond elections.

NBISD security upgrades

In 2018, New Braunfels voters approved a $118 million bond package for NBISD schools, including some $6.6 million dedicated to security upgrades.

Security upgrades that have been implemented or will be implemented as a result of the 2018 bond include card readers at all campuses, enclosed and hardened reception areas at all schools, electronic locking doors on all exterior entryways, security cameras at all elementary schools, the installation of ballistic glass film at campus entryways and the installation of security bollards at all campus drop-off and pickup areas.

“The district has always been vigilant in its effort to ensure a safe and secure school environment,” said NBISD Public Information Officer Rebecca Villarreal. “The funding that was included in the 2018 bond is helping us enhance our efforts and provide more peace of mind.”

One of the biggest changes to date for NBISD schools is the addition, via the 2018 bond program, of school resource officers at secondary campuses, Villarreal said.

The district began working with the city of New Braunfels Police Department to initiate the school resource officer program for the 2018-19 school year.

According to Villarreal, NBISD is undergoing a search for a district safety director to help bring all processes related to school safety and security under one umbrella. During the last school year, the district also began training employees in the Civilian Response to Active Shooter Events and Stop the Bleed protocols.

“It’s in order to have a unified system of response,” Villarreal said. “Every employee has undergone two to three hours of hands-on training to learn how to respond to a threat situation as well as how to provide medical assistance with the stop-the-bleed kits that are available in every district school and building. It is imperative that our staff know lifesaving strategies for surviving an active shooter event as well as how to provide medical assistance until professional help arrives.”

Security managment  at CISD

CISD counts 23,000 students to NBISD’s 9,000, but officials with CISD such as Director of Safety and Security Joe McKenna are still dedicated to a comprehensive plan covering all aspects of safety and security throughout the district.

“If you think about it, you can infuse safety and security into everything a school does,” McKenna said. “As a school district, we want to prevent anything we can. Whether it’s through a process or a building change, we want to prevent and mitigate what we can.”

Despite no increase in security funding in the latest bond election in 2017, which totaled $263.5 million, CISD schools continue to benefit from the 2015 bond election, which allocated $147.5 million for CISD schools, including $5.4 million dedicated to safety and security.

Among the most recent security upgrades at CISD schools are secure entryways for Canyon Lake High School, Church Hill Middle School and Memorial Early College High School—all funded by the 2015 bond.

CISD secure entry upgrades were made to three schools serving New Braunfels students, and are designed to prevent visitors from having direct access to students by securing doorways between main office and student areas.

Additionally, the 2015 bond allocated funds for campus security cameras at all district elementary schools, upgrades to security cameras at all secondary campuses and secure-door hardware and perimeter fencing at various campuses.

For the 2019-20 school year, CISD has strengthened its partnership with the Comal County Sheriff’s office by adding additional officers that will rove between elementary campuses–permanent school resource officers will remain at all secondary campuses, according to McKenna.

“We want a familiar officer that can go and interact with those teachers and students,” he said. “Let’s build those relationships, so if something happens we’re familiar. We want those resources to be there and be available.”

CISD has shown a commitment to a two-factor approach: extensive training for administrators and staff, and equipping faculty on campus and in the classroom.

CISD administrators receive at least eight hours of training on emergency response procedures, and all CISD staff receive evacuation and lockout training. Students are then relayed vital information from staff. McKenna himself works with various departments throughout the district to “fill in the gaps,” he said.

“Schools are meant to be open and inviting, and to some degree we want to maintain that, but we need to balance that with security,” said McKenna.

A secure vestibule or front office can be found at all campuses throughout NBISD and CISD, meaning front doors on campuses remain open, but secondary doors remain locked, and visitors must be buzzed inside the front office for access. Ninety percent of public school campuses in the U.S. now employ this strategy, according to the National Criminal Justice Reference Service.

Another change implemented at both school districts in recent years is the use of ID badges for all faculty and students, which creates efficiency and uniformity across the district, McKenna said, noting all CISD badges include a student’s name and grade.

Both school districts serving the New Braunfels area use SRP, hold emergency response training during the year and partner with local law-enforcement agencies to increase collaboration and to facilitate first-responder training throughout the district.

“Safety is something that’s never done,” McKenna said. “You’re always chasing better processes, even if it’s the smallest tweak. Getting even a little better is so important that you’re always chasing that perfect safety program. I don’t think we’ll ever get there because we continue to learn, and we’re never going to rest.”

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