Many of McKinney ISD’s roughly 23,000 students returned to campuses with newly installed security upgrades for the 2023-24 school year.

A total of 19 MISD campuses and buildings received security updates over the summer, representing more than half the district’s learning facilities. The upgrades, including new security vestibules and converting open-concept spaces into classrooms, cost over $2.9 million, according to district documents.

“Every McKinney ISD school will now have a safety vestibule to check ... parents [and] visitors in before they’re actually able to enter into the building,” MISD Superintendent Shawn Pratt said.

The upgrades were finished prior to the start of the school year, but more security measures are planned for MISD campuses. The Texas Legislature approved multiple school safety-related bills earlier this year, some with requirements affecting the 2023-24 school year.

House Bill 3 is a wide-ranging school safety bill that will require armed guards at every campus, along with enhanced mental health training and more. Another approved bill will require districts to add silent panic alert devices in every classroom.

MISD officials are evaluating how to best implement the new requirements in the coming years while continuing ongoing safety efforts.

“Safety and security of MISD students and staff are the No. 1 priority of this district and particularly the board of trustees,” MISD School Board President Philip Hassler said. “If we cannot have a safe learning environment, we are already behind the ability to be able to meet kids where they are.”

Adding safety infrastructure

The campus upgrades, completed by Balfour Beatty Construction, included adding security vestibules, which are enclosed spaces between two sets of doors at the entrance to the school building.

Vestibules are typically connected to the front desk through an intercom system to let in visitors. The vestibules also include bullet-resistant doors and windows, according to district documents. Security vestibules were added at other MISD campuses during annual summer refresh projects.

However, following recent school security concerns in the state, district staff were asked to complete the safety upgrades at the 16 remaining campuses this summer, according to a presentation by district staff at a Jan. 24 meeting.

“Since there were some security issues in the state recently, we’ve been asked to accelerate that construction schedule,” Chief Operations Officer Greg Suttle said.

The addition of security vestibules cost on average about $146,000 per school, according to meeting documents.

Upgrades at four elementary school campuses were also completed to convert open-concept kindergarten areas into classrooms.

“Safety and security for schools has become more intense, more involved. ... We have, every year, built on what we have from both hardening of the campuses’ technology and hardware that makes us safer to our policies and procedures and practices—our routines,” Pratt said.

The district has spent over $10 million in the past five years on safety and security monitoring, according to district budget documents.

Pratt said the district’s next bond package, not expected until 2026, will also likely include an increased allotment for security measures.

“I think every bond that we’ve had, the safety and security piece has been increased,” Pratt said. “In a couple of years when we go out [for the next bond package], I think that will increase dramatically in the next one.”

Effects of House Bill 3

A major school safety bill the Texas Legislature approved this year will require all public school campuses to have at least one armed officer.

Gov. Greg Abbott signed House Bill 3 into law June 14, and it will go into effect Sept. 1. The bill’s requirements say a qualifying armed officer must be on campus during regular school hours. The officer could be a school resource officer, or SRO, but it could also be a school marshal, school guardian or a private security officer. However, district officials are not considering arming MISD teachers or staff to meet the requirement, Pratt said.

“Teachers don’t get into education to carry a gun; they get into education because they love kids and they’re passionate for education, so it’s a complex issue,” Pratt said.

The McKinney Police Department provides 14 SROs and two SRO sergeants to MISD, but district officials are not expecting that number to increase, Pratt said. To meet the newly established requirements, the district needs 19 more qualifying armed guards for a total of 35.

In an Aug. 14 email to parents of MISD students, district officials said they plan to use a “multi-layered model” to meet the requirement, including hiring former law enforcement officers as school marshalls as well as hiring a licensed security service provider. The board of trustees also passed a good cause exemption to allow for the implementation of the mixed strategy at its Aug. 14 meeting.

District officials said the security strategy has been implemented and each campus has an armed guard as of Sept. 5, according to an Aug. 31 email to parents of MISD students.

The state bill provides an allotment of $15,000 per campus, along with a safety allotment of $10 per student, to fund the safety upgrades and expenses. MISD officials estimate the district will receive about $480,000 as a result of the bill.

“There’s a big deficit between the [$15,000 per campus] that we’re going to get and what we’re actually going to have to pay, but we’re not going to allow budget to be an issue in our strategies,” Pratt said.

The bill also charged the Texas School Safety Center, a research center at Texas State University, with auditing school security practices with districts across the state every five years.

“We’ll be working hand in hand [with the Texas Education Agency], working through implementation of House Bill 3 and how to do it in a way that school districts know that we’re here to help,” said Kathy Martinez-Prather, director of the Texas School Safety Center.

MISD safety strategies

In addition to the campus security upgrades and implementation of new state-level safety requirements, MISD officials are continuing to evaluate the district’s safety strategies.

District leaders recently appointed Russel May as MISD’s new senior director of safety and security. May, who has 26 years of experience in law enforcement, will oversee security operations and security plan implementation, according to a news release.

MPD officials plan to continue collaborating with the district to meet the HB 3 requirement.

“MPD will hold joint training sessions with MISD employed armed security personnel,” McKinney SRO Sergeant Farrel Ritchie said in a statement. “These trainings will help to ensure a collaborative response to all incidents on MISD properties.”

District officials are also pursuing opportunities to receive additional federal grant funding for safety and security upgrades.

One resource the district is pursuing is the Greenlights Grant Initiative, a project of actor Matthew McConaughey’s Just Keep Livin Foundation that raises awareness of available school safety grants and offers resources to school districts to apply for funding opportunities.••“We’re going to start really getting aggressive with federal grants on top of the state grants,” Pratt said.

As new strategies and resources are determined, district leaders continue to reinforce safety requirements and host annual staff training to increase awareness. Pratt said alert and well-trained staff members are the district’s “best defense.”

“We know a student who feels safe and secure in an educational setting is going to do well academically. ... All these things are intertwined,” Martinez-Prather said.

Additional reporting by Dave Manning.