In the wake of the Uvalde elementary school shooting, security is the topic on everyone’s minds as more than 375,000 students start returning to campuses in Bexar County, campus leaders and law enforcement officers said in an online discussion Tuesday.
“This is what all our parents and all our staff are talking about,” Judson Independent School District Superintendent Jeanette Ball said at the outset of the San Antonio Report’s virtual panel conversation titled “Protecting Our Children: What’s Next for School Safety.”
Southwest ISD Police Chief Richard Palomo, North East ISD Police Chief Wallace McCampbell, Sam Houston High School Principal Sharene Dixon and San Antonio Police Chief William McManus also participated.
“We take a layered approach to keeping our campuses safe,” Palomo explained. “It starts with exterior, with fences, that in itself is a physical barrier and also a psychological barrier. And then the next tier is, as you get to our buildings, it’s a single-point entry where you go into a holding area, it’s called a vestibule, and you are vetted there.”
Panelists said security enhancements this school year include putting up more fencing, security cameras, hiring more on-campus officers, as well as emphasizing a heightened awareness that safety is the responsibility of everyone on campus.
“One of the things we’re doing this year is, every teacher keeps their doors locked,” Dixon said. “Every door will stay locked in the school. It wasn’t always like that.”
Each of the administrators and campus law enforcement officials emphasized the need for lockdown drills, officer training and better intervention when students are experiencing a potential mental health crisis or showing signs of isolating from the school community.
In the event of a school shooting, SAPD would respond within “a matter of minutes,” McManus said, then immediately assess how to work with the campus police to neutralize a shooter.
Overall, the hope is that enhanced security measures won’t be too disruptive to the students’ experience, the panelists said.
“We recently sent out a message to all the parents that it might be a little bit more time-consuming to come into our campus,” Ball said, “but we’re going to take extra security measures.”
The virtual event was streamed live and sponsored by The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio, as well as silver sponsors Lakeshore Learning, Schulman Lopez Hoffer and Adelstein LLP, and the new School of Science and Technology Online Campus.