Campus safety: Area schools invite feedback

Audio articles on Wilson County News made possible by C Street Gift Shop in downtown Floresville

School safety is on everyone’s mind in the wake of the May 24 shooting at a Uvalde elementary school that claimed 21 lives, including 19 schoolchildren.

The Floresville Independent School District invited parents and community members to share their concerns about security and safety during a June 7 “Safety & Security Forum.” The purpose, according to district officials, was “to gather information that will assist us in creating the safest possible environment for students and staff.”

School board member Alena Berlanga, ahead of the meeting, invited educators to offer their thoughts about school safety through an informal survey on her personal Facebook page. The survey was completely anonymous.

“I did this as a parent, taxpayer, concerned citizen, and not as a school board member,” she told the Wilson County News June 6.

What teachers told her:

•75 percent of those responding want the choice about whether or not to carry a gun at work (school).

•58 percent would feel safer knowing trained colleagues had guns; 25 percent said they’d feel less safe.

•75 percent don’t believe teachers and counselors have the necessary tools to identify and assist mentally unstable or at-risk children.

“If our local teachers feel this way, it’s safe to say that the sentiment is similar on a national level,” Berlanga said.

She planned to include her findings in Tuesday’s Floresville ISD forum, and also will include them “in the conversation in school board meetings where we’ll be addressing the safety of staff and students.”

The raw feedback from the survey, she believes, “is more valuable than what we see being regurgitated in most media outlets.”

Floresville ISD has its own police department; the other three Wilson County school districts — La Vernia, Poth, and Stockdale — have adopted the Texas School Guardian Program to support campus safety. Under the program, teachers and staff who meet stringent screening and training are permitted to carry weapons on campus; they are known only to administration, to protect their safety and that of those around them. Berlanga said she’d support Floresville adopting the program, too.

“As a parent, I feel that is only one part of the conversation, and one piece of the solution,” Berlanga said. “… Having the choice is important.”

Falls City ISD

Todd Pawelek, superintendent in the Falls City ISD, which straddles the Wilson/Karnes county line, also sees potential in the Guardian Program, although his district has not adopted it at this time. The district administrators met with staff Tuesday to discuss safety, and Pawelek will meet Thursday with other Karnes County superintendents and the county judge about campus safety.

The school board also will discuss safety at its meeting next Wednesday, including “ways to ‘harden’ our campuses,” he told the Wilson County News. One thing they’ll consider is whether to increase the number of school resource officers on campus; currently, they have one officer. The Guardian program also will be discussed.

“Recent events have caused me — personally — to revisit the Guardian Program,” Pawelek said. “I would think that the popularity of these programs will continue to grow around the state.”

Some other safety measures to consider, said Berlanga, are installing locking systems for all doors that lead into buildings, providing ‘panic buttons’ — like a LifeAlert system — to all teachers, and reducing entry points on campuses.

Floresville North Elementary School, she said, is an example of a secure campus. To access the site, you have to be “buzzed in” and present an ID, Berlanga explained. “We need something like that at all campuses.”

La Vernia

La Vernia ISD also invites community input on safety concerns at a town-hall meeting Wednesday, June 8, at 6 p.m. in the La Vernia High School cafeteria.

“Recently, before the tragedy, we adopted the Guardian Program, which allows vetted and trained staff to carry firearms on campus to protect against active shooters,” said Superintendent Hensley Cone in a letter to district families.

“There are things we can look at that can have a significant impact on keeping students safe on campus, Berlanga said. She encourages all community members to be part of the discussions with the school districts in their communities.

Gov. Abbott’s response

Gov. Greg Abbott on June 1 directed the Texas School Safety Center to immediately begin a comprehensive review of all Texas public schools to maximize school safety. In addition, Abbott requested the Texas Education Agency to:

•Instruct school districts to identify actions they can take prior to next school year to make their campuses more secure.

•Instruct districts to conduct weekly inspections of exterior doors to verify they’re secure during school hours.

•Develop strategies to encourage districts to increase the presence of trained law-enforcement officers and school marshals on campuses.

Abbott also wants to make Texas State University’s Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training (ALERRT) program available to all Texas school districts. The program is designed to equip first responders with effective strategies to respond to active attack event