As the new academic year begins, Coastal Bend schools are stepping up their security procedures and increasing the presence of armed officers in response to new state legislation.
A year after the bloodiest school massacre in Texas, which left 21 students and teachers dead in Uvalde in May 2022, lawmakers established new school safety regulations. They became active in September.
More mental health education is required due to improved school security, and the Texas Education Agency now has greater control over school safety plans. In districts that neglect to provide information about school safety or respond to complaints, the TEA can appoint a conservator.
State legislators failed to enact proposed legislation that would have raised the minimum age to purchase an AR-style weapon, so there was no increase in gun laws.
A new mandate that school districts keep at least one armed police on duty at every site during regular school hours is one of the most discussed components of the changes. The state did not impose fines on districts that did not comply with the armed officer mandate, enabling school boards to request exemptions and use substitute strategies like arming trained staff members or contracting a private security company.
The Texas School Safety Center reported in 2020 that between 2017 and 2020, 41% of school districts hired law enforcement officers, and 32% contracted with local law enforcement organizations. The majority said they hired or contracted one to five officers.
Only slightly more than half of those surveyed said they used non-law enforcement security professionals, such as the state’s Guardian Program, which permits armed staff to work in schools.
Most of the time, security personnel and law enforcement officials were routinely posted to high schools and middle schools.
To execute the adjustments, the state increased the amount allocated for school safety to $10 per student and gave schools an additional $15,000 per campus.
According to school administrators in Coastal Bend, state financing is insufficient to meet expenses.
According to Corpus Christi ISD Police Chief Kirby Warnke, the budget of $15,000 per school is insufficient to cover an armed officer’s wage. Any new employees that schools hire must also be prepared and armed.
ISD of Corpus Christi
Police officers have been stationed at every middle and high school site in the Corpus Christi ISD, covered by its police department, for many years. However, in earlier years, patrolling police units were sent to the elementary campuses.
33 CCISD is hiring more full-time staff to meet the demands.
According to Warnke, the district did not consider alternatives like arming existing non-security personnel.
“That wasn’t the view that I subscribe to,” Warnke said. “My view is teachers teach, leaders lead and police and security provide police and security services. That’s our job and it’s a focused job.”
According to Warnke, the district has tried to hire as many police officers as possible to fill the vacancies.
“The problem is, there’s not 33 police officers in the greater Corpus Christi area to hire,” Warnke said.
The district is hiring “senior safety officers” to fill open police officer posts.
“Those are specially trained employees that have been licensed to carry, and they’ll be taking the DPS school safety course,” Warnke said.
Senior safety officials will train alongside district police, including active shooting and firearms training, and must pass the same psychological evaluation as police personnel.
The senior safety officers’ job will be to secure the school as armed guards.
“The way I describe their job is to be visible, checking the doors regularly,” Warnke said.
Warnke cited the incident at Uvalde’s Robb Elementary School, where a burglar accessed the building through an unguarded entrance door. The senior safety officials will ensure no doors are left unlocked or open.
The district will maintain the police patrol system for the campuses without a police officer present all the time, assisting the senior safety officers and taking care of legal matters.
Warnke stated that he and CCISD chief human resource officer Debbie Cruz had already started talking about boosting security employees at the elementary level before the discussions at the state level.
“I don’t know if we would have done 33 in one year, but the idea was being considered,” Warnke said.
By the time the law takes effect in September, the district hopes to have filled every position it has opened up since June. Long-term, the district will keep emphasizing hiring police to fill roles wherever possible, and it may look into ways to assist senior safety officers in becoming commissioned police officers, according to Warnke.
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Other Schools in the Coastal Bend
According to Superintendent Kimberly Moore, the Corpus Christi Police Department, and a hired security firm provide service to West Oso ISD.
The district has raised standards.
“We want to make sure we’re doing every single thing within our control,” Moore said
The district is making sure there are no gaps in the schedule to ensure that no school is left unattended and adding an extra person to cover breaks in order to ensure that armed guards always guard all campuses at all times.
According to Moore, state financing falls short of meeting all staff and student safety requirements.
“What they did was add $15,000 per campus plus $10 per student, and that doesn’t come close to paying for the cost,” Moore said.
Door alarms notify personnel if a door isn’t completely shut or is inadvertently left open, and access control points are further security measures.
To the team of district school resource officers in Gregory-Portland ISD, which already consisted of three officers, the district added four extra armed security guards. Additionally, the district has armed security personnel.
According to Michael Thieme, executive director of safety and security, the district already has several security measures in place.
“The good thing is we’ve been ahead of the game for a while, since about 2017,” Thieme said. “Our district spent approximately $6 million on hardening facilities and increased security (in 2017).”
Superintendent of Tuloso-Midway ISD Steve Van Matre stated that the district increased the number of armed security officers in reaction to the modifications. Additionally, several unarmed security guards are being added.
“The only thing that we were out of compliance with based on the new legislation was that we did not have a separate police officer at our Academic Career Center, which is our alternative campus,” Van Matre said.
Between 30 and 50 pupils are served annually by the alternate program.
In addition to the legal requirements, the district is installing metal detectors on its middle and high school campuses, according to Van Matre. He added that tuloso-Midway High School’s fencing cost the community nearly $200,000.
Van Matre also granted Tuloso-Midway Intermediate School’s request to enact a clear-backpack rule on school grounds. other security cameras, a new parent notification system, and more training are some of the district’s other initiatives.
“I feel good about where we’re at,” Van Matre said. “I also know that regardless of what we do, we can’t be 100% certain that an incident is not going to occur. But I can tell our parents I’m 100% certain that we’re doing everything possible to keep our schools safe.”
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