District officials have been working to improve student safety since voters approved a bond referendum in 2014 that included $55.4 million for safety and security upgrades, such as the installation of emergency call stations at all secondary campuses, additional security cameras, card reader devices, lockdown panic buttons and security vestibules at all 91 district campuses.
Vestibules at front entrances—which will be installed at each campus by the end of 2018—feature bullet-resistant glass and buzzer door releases controlled by the front office receptionists. These projects keep outside visitors from entering the school before signing in with photo identification at the front desk, according to Chief Operations Officer Roy Sprague.
Many of the bond’s plans have already been implemented, and an additional $1 million has been set aside for safety initiatives in the 2018-19 school year.
District officials are also studying the prospect of installing security fencing around portable buildings, removing certain door handles and purchasing metal detectors.
One new policy decision was made early this summer. On June 21, Superintendent Mark Henry announced all middle and high school students would be required to carry clear backpacks this academic year. These backpacks can be purchased at each secondary campus for $10 each, and economically disadvantaged students can access them for free.
“There’s only two or three things that we’re asking our students to do—wear their ID, [and] if they’re a secondary student, use a clear backpack and then follow the dress code,” he said at Thursday’s board work session. “If they’re not doing those three things, we are committed to addressing those when they occur.”
Gov. Greg Abbott released a School and Firearm Safety Action Plan on May 30 in response to the May 18 mass shooting in Santa Fe, Texas. Abbott’s plan recommended increasing law enforcement presence at schools, improving the school marshal program to arm teachers, reinforcing campus facilities, providing mental health evaluations for at-risk students and expanding Campus Crime Stoppers programs.
Abbott said the state plan serves as a starting point as legislators consider strategies ahead of the 86th legislative session—particularly in terms of mental health.
“As long as mental health challenges trouble our children, there will never be enough safety barriers that we can build to protect our students,” he said at a May 30 press conference. “If, however, we can address mental health challenges faced by our students, it will do more than just make our schools safer. It will also build a better future for those trouble students as well as for our state.”
In his action plan, Abbott recommended better utilizing counseling resources and behavioral threat assessment programs in schools. With more than 240 counselors in the district, officials said they have already been using these types of training programs.
However, CFISD officials are launching two districtwide mental health intervention teams in 2018-19, each consisting of two licensed professional counselors, one school psychologist and one mental health officer.
Traci Schluter, CFISD’s director of psychological services, said the teams will ensure students are supported by the district while including parents in the process. Duties may include initial screenings and follow-ups, individual counseling, consultation, mediation and referrals.
The district plans to educate parents throughout the 2018-19 school year, including covering warning signs they can look for in their children as well as fighting misconceptions and stigmas surrounding mental health, officials said.
“There’s never anything positive that comes out of tragedies like we saw last spring, but the one thing we did see is that people in high places were finally realized or made aware that we do have a mental health crisis in this country,” Henry said.