Following last week's tragic events at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, TX, the conversation about school safety is at an all-time high across Texas and the nation.
From the tragedy to the fallout over how the events played out to the political theatrics by candidates like Beto O’Rourke, talk has ranged from gun control to mental health. That conversation has reached from the state of Texas to the halls of Washington, D.C.
“My heart remains broken for the families whose lives have changed forever in Uvalde,” said Congressman Brian Babin (TX-36) to The Vindicator. “Instead of uniting the nation, Biden divided it by politicizing this horrific tragedy. We should be talking about putting God back in our schools and de-escalating those who self-identify as being on a pathway to violence. Taking away our Constitutional rights will never be a solution.”
Regardless of political arguments, the focus on keeping school children safe is at center stage.
Liberty County is no different, and with seven school districts of varying sizes and populations, there are 33 public school campuses across the county; each community faces various issues that come with protecting students and faculty on campus.
The Vindicator reached out to local districts and received responses from Cleveland, Dayton, Hardin, Liberty, and Tarkington ISDs. Each district provided campus practices and some new measures in the wake of recent events.
Some of those immediate responses included increased campus security as schools prepared to let out for the Summer.
Superintendent Stephen McCanless of Cleveland, the county's largest school system, pointed to the increase in police presence, moving evening and night shift officers to days for the end of the semester.
Dayton saw extra police presence from the Dayton Police Department and Liberty County Pct. 4 Constables office. Harris County Constable Pct. 3 primarily provides security on Dayton campuses, and the local departments made an assist.
"We would like to thank Dayton PD Chief Derek Woods and his officers along with Constable Robby Thornton (LC Precinct #4) and his staff for their partnerships, visibility, and support," said Dayton ISD Superintendent Jessica Johnson of the district's increased security last week.
Hardin ISD Superintendent Scott Mackey said his district's number one priority has been and will continue to be the safety and welfare of students, faculty, and staff.
"Moving forward, we will brainstorm with local school officials and law enforcement personnel to look at our present emergency procedures/protocols and revise accordingly," said Mackey.
He was also grateful for the increased presence of the Liberty County Sheriff's Office.
Liberty ISD is the only district in the county that remains in session, with its final day of school Thursday, June 2.
Immediately following the events in Uvalde, the Liberty Police Department went to social media, making clear they would be stepping up their efforts.
“We will have police in every school through the end of year. We are going to protect our kids,” said a statement to LISD parents on Facebook.
Tarkington ISD Superintendent Elna Davis, the newest district leader in the county, points to the commitment by both her and the school board to keep the safety of students their highest priority.
“We will continue to be in ongoing conversation about additional staff training while utilizing the expertise of local law enforcement, Texas School Safety Center, and Region 4 Education Service Center. In terms of future plans, we are reviewing current protocols as a leadership team to determine how they can be enhanced. Safety is the utmost priority, and the strategies implemented should evolve as our safety protocols do,” said Davis
The following is a list of practices provided by local superintendents. Districts share some methods, but this is just a snapshot from each district:
• Increased police presence district-wide.
• Increased security at graduation ceremonies (metal detector checks and screenings).
• Random metal detector wand checks/drug dog checks started Feb. 22 and include all grades and campuses two times per week.
• Lock doors to classrooms/all students outside of any classrooms MUST have a pass.
• NO backpacks were allowed during the last week of school.
• Perimeter camera surveillance by central monitoring at the police department.
• Traffic control enforced.
• Social emotional learning/mental health/emotional wellness support on every campus.
• Active shooter drills were done in the past and are collaborating with Liberty County DA to schedule a future training.
• Field Days are limited to CISD staff and approved parent volunteers.
• Lunch with students limited to certain grades/certain days with structure and organization.
• Implemented barricades in all classrooms (barricade door stops) thanks to the Dayton Rotary Club and CrimeStoppers.
• All campuses have safety vestibules.
• Conduct intruder alert drills.
• Updated district re-unification plan this year.
• Encourage, partner, and have given a standing invitation for free breakfast and lunch for all law enforcement.
• Continuous training and safety drills for all staff.
• DISD contracts with Harris County Precinct 3 under Sergeant Kevin Wilson's leadership with four full-time officers.
• DISD partners with Harris County Dept. of Education with training for Safe and Secure Schools Program.
• School Resource Officer works on all three campuses and travels to many out-of-town extracurricular activities.
• Administrators and SRO conduct monthly drills such as shelter in place, fire drills, and lockdowns in case of an intruder on campus.
• Concerning mental health, school counselors have partnered with Baylor College of medicine for mental health services. They use the Texas Child Health Access Through Telemedicine (TCHATT), which provides free and short-term behavioral health care to at-risk children and adolescents.
• Liberty County Sheriff's Department and SWAT Team have keys and maps to all school facilities. They do "Alert" trainings in HISD facilities multiple times throughout the year.
• An increased presence of Liberty PD on all campuses.
• A security plan is in place for Graduation with extensive personnel.
• Campuses are currently closed to visitors with the exception of end-of-the-year awards, where increased security will be present and multi-step screening will occur.
• All entry doors on every campus are protected by badge entry, and all schools have vestibule-style entryways.
• Active Shooter drills are performed on every campus at regular intervals.
• The surveillance system is monitored closely, including video footage and digital monitoring.
• Secure dismissal best practices are being followed.
• Anonymous reporting is encouraged through the See Something, Say Something initiative.
• Liberty ISD participates in the Texas School Guardians Program.
• Social-Emotional Learning and Support are provided on every campus.
• Secure entry with video monitoring at all campuses.
• Secure entry/exit from classrooms.
• Safety measures executed per the district's agreement with Liberty County law enforcement.
Devers and Hull-Daisetta ISDs have yet to respond to our inquiries as of press time.
Contact your local school district for more information on school safety and security practices.