After the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, last week, Dallas ISD Superintendent Michael Hinojosa used time at Thursday evening’s school board meeting that is usually reserved for him to update the school board on district events and happenings to talk about the impact these incidents has on schools locally.
Last week, Hinojosa issued a brief statement expressing the district’s condolences and reassuring parents, teachers, and students that safety was a priority here, too.
“Student safety is Dallas ISD’s top priority,” he said Feb. 16, “Campuses are trained and equipped to support students by teaching and modeling social and emotional skills.”
“Teachers, students and staff are always encouraged to monitor the school environment and to bring to the attention of administrators and security any potentially troubling behavior.”
Last night, he delved further into what Dallas ISD is doing, and other district officials answered questions from trustees as well.
But prior to that, Gail Perry from the National Education Association-Dallas spoke during the time reserved for public comment, imploring the district to work with Dallas police to ensure that each school was as safe as possible. She said the NEA-Dallas was asking the district to arrange for DPD tactical specialist to walk schools with principals and district staffers, pointing out weaknesses and observing arrivals and dismissals to shore up security measures.
The organization also asked the district to work harder to secure portable classrooms, and to make a plan for false fire alarms, since the gunman in the most recent school shooting used a fire alarm to lure students and faculty out into the open.
Hinojosa acknowledged the NEA’s concerns in his update, and said, “We’re not going to arm teachers, that’s not the solution.”
He told observers and trustees that the district had a “significant” police department with a staff of 200 — with 100 made up of patrol officers that are spread out in secondary school campuses and patrolling the district. “It’s one of the largest in Texas,” he said of Dallas ISD’s police department.
In addition to patrol officers, Hinojosa said the district has units to handle things like criminal investigations as well.
After the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012, the district increased building security, Hinojosa said Thursday night. The use of cameras, a computerized check-in system for visitors, lockdown drills and campus emergency procedures for active shooter situations were instituted.
“We go above and beyond what the state requirements are (on drills),” he said.
The district also has active shooter training for personnel and has a good working relationship with the city of Dallas to make sure plans are in place if the worst happened.
“Yes, we need to be vigilant,” Hinojosa continued. “Some of these things are out of our control. The things that are in our control are handled very seriously.”
Hinojosa said that after incidents like the school shooting in Parkland, the district always takes a look at current practices to see if changes are necessary.
Trustee Bernadette Nutall said she had been getting questions since last week from parents, administrators, and teachers. She asked district staffers about automatic door locks and metal detectors — secondary schools have them, but keeping them in good repair can be problematic.
Deputy Superintendent for Operations Scott Layne said that most schools had exterior doors equipped with panic devices that automatically lock. “We continue to review and look at upgrades,” he added.
Nutall asked Chief Academic Officer Ivonne Durant about teacher training — specifically about training teachers to deal with high-pressure emergency situations like an active shooter situation. Durant said that plans were underway to add additional training to already planned safety and emotional learning sessions in summer training.
Chief of School Leadership Stephanie Elizalde said Monday’s staff development day gave the district the opportunity to review current procedures with teachers. It wasn’t originally on the agenda, she said, but the gun violence at Parkland, Florida, prompted it.
“We are looking at new training that is now being made available,” Elizalde said, adding that the most recent incident had officials realizing that there were possible scenarios they had not adequately planned for, so they’ll be mapping out other areas they need to address.
Trustee Joyce Foreman said that in a perfect world, the portable classrooms would not exist, making securing campuses easier. Layne agreed, adding that he’d like to add sensors to alert when doors are opened, and keyless entry pads for exterior doors, limiting public exposure to entrances.
“What you want to get to is a very limited number of entrances to schools,” he explained.
Trustee Edwin Flores said research indicates that the biggest safety feature for schools is free — the students. Research, he says, indicates that encouraging and fostering relationships with students to make them feel comfortable coming forward with things they hear has stopped potential issues before they become tragic events.
Board president Dan Micciche agreed, adding, “If you see something, say something.”
Trustee and staff concerns are justified. National Public Radio reported Thursday that schools in the U.S. are receiving an average of 50 threats of violence every day since the Parkland shooting, compared to 10 per day at the end of last year.
Locally, five high school students (from Marcus High in Flower Mound, Plano West, and South Garland) were arrested for bringing guns on campus a day after the Feb. 14 shootings in Florida. Several more students were arrested around the Dallas-Fort Worth area in ensuing days for making threats or bringing guns on campus. Thursday, two Richardson High School students were arrested after defacing a mirror with a threat to shoot up their school.