Dallas ISD and Richardson ISD are prioritizing school safety across the Lake Highlands and Lakewood areas in response to concerns following mass shootings, such as the one in Uvalde, Texas, on May 24.

According to Gun Violence Archive, a national nonprofit that provides public access to gun violence data, there have been over 30 mass shootings in Texas this year. The organization defines a mass shooting as a single incident where at least four people are injured or killed by a bullet.

To increase security, DISD officials announced July 18 the district will require the use of clear or mesh backpacks for students in sixth through 12th grade starting in the 2022-23 school year. The DISD website states that the new backpacks will allow campus personnel to better prevent prohibited items from entering schools.

“We all have to work together to make sure our schools continue to remain safe,” DISD Superintendent Stephanie Elizalde said. “We want to be proactive, not reactive.”

Through the use of funds from the 2021 bond election and 2018 tax ratification election, RISD schools have received security upgrades, Assistant Superintendent Sandra Hayes said. For both districts, a strive toward improving overall security has led to implementing new security equipment and training ahead of the 2022-23 school year. Along with a complete analysis of the effectiveness of their security programs, DISD and RISD officials said they are working to ensure safety across all campuses.

“Creating a safe environment for teaching and learning has been RISD’s No. 1 priority since the Columbine tragedy in 1999,” Hayes said.

Calls for increasing measures

Dallas City Council Member Adam McGough has pushed RISD to improve its security. He represents the city’s District 10, which is located in RISD’s school boundaries. In a June 6 memo to Dallas City Manager T.C. Broadnax and RISD interim Superintendent Tabitha Branum, McGough recommended stronger security.

“It is time for action,” McGough said in the memo. “We cannot accept the pain and fear that permeates our communities with the infiltration of violence and evil in our schools.”

McGough stated he believes RISD officials should perform safety audits; establish early warning and red flag systems through anonymous reporting; monitor social media for warning signs; and move polling locations when school is in session.

In June, the RISD board of trustees requested the Texas Legislature modify primary election days to promote safety on campus. On the day of the mass shooting in Uvalde that left 19 students and two teachers dead, several RISD campuses were open to the public for the Dallas County primary runoff election.

“We ... know that during that time our buildings are vulnerable,” Branum said during the June 13 meeting.

Adding to security

Among the safety and security upgrades that have been implemented in RISD are doors with double-buzz entry pads, keyless automatic locking doors with electronic monitoring, handheld metal detectors and more. District officials said bond funds have also been used to increase security camera footage both inside and outside of campuses.

“[RISD] schools are well-equipped with safety and security in mind, with funding for updates and improvements provided each bond cycle,” Hayes said.

Additional security improvements being implemented for the 2022-23 school year include improved exterior campus and parking lot lighting; additional cameras; and more. DISD officials said the district also uses bond funds to improve security equipment. Dallas residents approved a proposition during the 2020 bond that provides $114.7 million toward safety and security improvements in the district.

Elizalde said work also has begun on improvements from the 2015 bond election, which includes the installation of an extra hallway at the entrance of each campus. The district’s website says it installed 400 metal detectors over the past two years at secondary campuses. DISD plans to also purchase 100 handheld metal detector wands for elementary campuses as a security precaution.

School resource officers

RISD works closely with the Dallas, Richardson and Garland police departments to hire city police officers as school resource officers, or SROs, to protect the district’s 55 campuses. These officers are designed to investigate potential threats, provide physical security on campuses as needed, conduct safety audits and direct district preparedness for safety-related events and drills, RISD officials said.

“RISD safety and security staff are inside schools throughout each day to provide direction and support to campuses involved in a potential safety situation,” RISD Executive Director of Communications Tim Clark said in a statement. “Fortunately, a discovery of a firearm inside an RISD school is a very rare occurrence, but it is something school staff, district staff and police prepare for and immediately respond to if it does happen.”

McGough stated in his memo that he believes the number of officers covering RISD is not enough.

“Public safety is the top priority for our city, and to be the safest big city in the country, we must start by ensuring that our schools are safe,” McGough wrote in the memo.

DISD funds its own police force with a staff of approximately 200 officers for the district’s more than 220 campuses. This police department costs the district about $17 million annually and works closely with nearby agencies.

“Our partnerships are very important for us, not only through figuring out who’s going to be in charge and understanding protocols, but how we’re going to work together and communicate amongst each other,” DISD Chief of Police John Lawton said.

McGough cited in the memo the potential for creating an RISD police department that would “be responsible for all safety and security issues.”

Audit of security policies

The Texas Education Agency announced in June that all school districts would be required to perform a safety audit designed to ensure best practices are in place. RISD officials said plans are in place for the district to undergo a full third-party audit in the first semester of the new school year.

“Safety procedures and physical safety is part of [our] ongoing evaluations of campus and district safety planning,” Hayes said.

In DISD, officials said an assessment of the district’s safety policies of locked doors was done this summer. All campuses are also scheduled to have a review of safety and intervention measures completed in August.

“[School safety] is multiple layers, multiple protocols—it is not one thing,” Elizalde said. “Communication has been our No. 1 way of being proactive. If you see something, please say something.”