After Sandy Hook, how safe are our schools?

Carolina Astrain By Carolina Astrain

Dec. 13, 2013 at 6:13 a.m.
Updated Dec. 14, 2013 at 6:14 a.m.

When faced with a shooter like Adam Lanza, who last year killed 26 people in five minutes after shooting through a Connecticut elementary school's security doors, there's not much a school can do in a similar situation, local educators said.

With Saturday as the one-year anniversary of the shooting rampage, Crossroads educators talk about what has been done to make their campuses safer.

"I'm not going to fool myself into thinking that we have this magical sense of safety," said Michael Seabolt, Louise school district superintendent.

Louise is one of two Crossroads school districts to pass local policies allowing employees to carry guns on campus in response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. The Ganado school district was the other.

But despite the grim odds, the superintendent said, a school district should be prepared to defend its students.

"You have to fight back with what you have," Seabolt said. "If somebody has started a shooting, they're not going to stop until somebody else stops them."

In the past year, 71 school districts in the state have adopted firearms policies allowing staff members to have guns, according to data collected by the Texas Association of School Boards.

A school resource officer is the best person to have armed on campus, said Kevin Quinn, the National Association of School Resource Officers president.

"In areas where staff or teachers are armed, SROs are going to have to keep them in mind," Quinn said. "There's a lot more to this whole discussion than just someone having a gun."

Other school districts have taken alternative precautions.

The Cuero school district was the second school district in the state to start using COPsync 911, an emergency alert software.

In the event of a shooting, an employee on his or her computer would be able to send an alert to the police department, which would then send its closest first responders to the campus, said Jim Haley, Cuero superintendent.

"From there, they would be able to contain a situation," Haley said. And if the culprit is "someone like the Sandy Hook shooter who shot through the door - there's no way to stop a person like that."

Over the past year, campus safety drills have multiplied threefold, Haley said.

"We've also taken extra measures to train our substitute teachers because that could conceivably be a weak link," Haley said.

Having a plan is paramount, said Victoria College Police Chief Felix Appelt.

"You need to practice it and figure out what you're going do to," Appelt said. "Any kind of reaction is better than no reaction at all."

Northside Baptist School, in Victoria, recently enhanced its security in response to the Connecticut shooting, said principal Jan Chilcoat.

"It took a long time and a lot of thought to get this thing going," Chilcoat said. "But we finally figured out what we could do."

Automatic timed locks on classroom doors were installed this fall on the private school campus.

"We feel fairly secure," Chilcoat said. "We have iron gates that we can lock and shelter-in-place procedures we can follow."

Over the summer, the Victoria public school district spent $250,000 to install new safety doors, security cameras and identification scanners.

"We did a big safety analysis of our campus last year," said Diane Boyett, school district communications director. "Some of it was already in progress before Sandy Hook."

The safety doors, similar to those used at Sandy Hook, keep visitors from entering the classroom area with electronic locks that can be unlocked with a button in another location.

Cuero voters recently approved a $76 million bond package to build at least one new school and make renovations, including safety doors, at others, Haley said.

In the event of a shooter like Lanza appearing on a Victoria campus, Boyett said, the district's efforts are aimed at slowing down such a shooter.

"Deter and distract," Boyett said. "Seconds make a difference."



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