District-wide safety improvements further protection on campuses
September 18, 2018
Step one: Deter. Security cameras in every hall, and security personnel on every campus. Try to keep someone hoping to commit violence as far away from students at possible.
Step two: Detect. Scanning IDs, gaining information, using hand held metal detectors, and receptionists assessing each person walking through the office. Identify every person who enters the building.
Step three: Delay. Locked doors, alarm systems, emergency personnel on their way as soon as 911 is called. Keep unsafe situations as far away from students at possible. For as long as possible.
Across the district, new security measures have been implemented this school year, from door alarms to Personal Locator Devices. Talk about making changes to security and safety began in the fall of 2017. The district created a citizen committee to connect parents with other experts from fields including police and fire safety, legal counsel, and child advocacy.
The committee had its first meeting in the spring of 2018, near the time of the Sante Fe High School shooting on May 18.
“I think [the shooting] ramped up, in the community’s eyes, the need to do something [and] the need to have a more secure [district],” assistant superintendent Dennis Womack said. “We did quite a bit of research on each [campus] and then we brought it to the citizen committee, and we had the committee work with us and rank order some different areas that we could help mitigate any kind of threat.”
Although the committee’s initial meeting coincided with the Sante Fe shooting, Womack said school shootings were not the primary catalyst of the changes.
“The frequency and the number of shootings definitely has brought [security] to the forefront,” Womack said. “I think that really overall health and safety of students is paramount, [I and] don’t think the shooting in and of itself is the only reason.”
During the 2017-2018 school year, the district had one Student Resource Officer or SRO, who traveled between all six campuses. Five additional security members were hired this year, for a total of three SROs and three school marshalls across the district. A new district position, director of safety and security, was also added to district staff.
“[School] marshalls have weapons on them and a PLD,” Womack said. “They are responsible for ensuring the safety of the building occupants. That could be several things– checking perimeter, [or] looking for something doesn’t look right.”
School marshals are posted at Hart Elementary, Lovejoy Elementary, and the high school, while SROs patrol Puster Elementary, Willow Springs Middle School, and Sloan Creek Intermediate School.
“Our campus security personnel are highly trained individuals with strong backgrounds in either the military and/or law enforcement,” director of safety and security Dan Buholtz said. “Some still hold a peace officer license. There are several differentiating factors between the two, but both have the power to act under the same authority to prevent or abate the commission of an offense in the event of a life-threatening situation that occurs on school premises.”
The district pays the salary of each SRO from the town of Fairview in order to supply each officer and vehicle, as well as pays four additional salaries for each of three school marshalls along with the director of safety and security. Funding for the addition of these positions was paid in part for cutting funding from groundskeeping.
“We intentionally don’t have enough grounds people,” Womack said. “We only have three people that take care of all the grounds at all six of our campuses plus the bus barn. It’s through those types of choices that we have diverted the funds from that to pay for security.”
Shortening emergency response time emerged as a priority area “to be improved or enhanced” after the district’s most recent security audit, Womack said. The district must pass the audits every three years. To address the issue, the district introduced the MadeSafe PLDs this year.
“[A] campus security person will respond [to a PLD alert], whether it’s a medical emergency, an altercation, [etc.],” Womack said. “We want to cut down response time. The faster we can get security [to the scene], the better we can delay that person from committing acts of violence.”
The PLD is a key fob now worn by each staff member on every campus in the district. Faculty members are required to wear both their name badges and PLDs on campus. By pressing and holding the red button on the front of the fob, the campus’s security person is alerted that an emergency is taking place.
“If an adult needs the help of another adult, break-ins, student-on-staff violence, student-on-student violence, anything where the teacher doesn’t feel safe, they can take care of the situation [when] they need to call for help,” Womack said.
Once an alert is issued, the MadeSafe devices track the wearer of the PLD in order to help emergency responders find the scene as quickly as possible. Womack said the PLDs provide a tool to those encountering an emergency at hand.
“There are some vendors out there that do something similar to what we have, but it’s like an app on your phone,” Womack said. “If I’m a teacher at the front of the room and my phone is over on my desk and I hear an altercation occuring out in the hallway, I’m probably not going to run over to my phone before I go to the door to check it out. The PLD needs to be with the staff member while they’re on our campuses, and that allows them the quick response to whatever the issue is.”
Lovejoy ISD is the first school district in the nation to utilize MadeSafe on its campuses. The MadeSafe system and its network were paid for as a capital improvement project. Capital improvement projects are typically funded by voter approved bond authorizations, and in May 2014 voters authorized Lovejoy ISD to issue $75,750,000 in bonds. The savings on prior capital improvement projects funded the MadeSafe system.
“Since 2011, the State of Texas Legislature has continually changed the funding formulas to decrease the amount of funds they provide school districts,” Womack said. “[Funding cuts have] not impacted the district’s ability to issue voter authorized bonds to pay for capital improvements or construction projects. However, the cut in funding by the state does impact the district’s ability to pay to operate and maintain these improvements.”
Students and teachers
In addition to PLDs, other visible changes include an updated card reader system in the front offices for checking in visitors, hand-held metal detectors located in the administration offices, and large white numbers pasted above every entrance to the school in hopes they will be used to lead emergency personnel to the correct entrance closest to the emergency at hand. Alarm systems have also been placed on all doors at the high school, alerting the office if doors are left ajar for too long.
“When [students] leave those doors open that invites an opportunity for someone that did want to do violence the easy way to get into the building,” Womack said. “When you see those alarms on the exterior doors now, that’s part of that whole process of detecting ‘is the door ajar?’ Then we want an alarm to sound, and we want the security officer to intervene.”
Although junior Kyra Jacobs said the use of door alarms may be hindering to her in instances such as having to move theater props in and out of the school, she said she realizes open doors are a security issue.
“I didn’t necessarily feel less safe in the school last year, but knowing that [new security measures] are there makes me feel safe for the future,” Jacobs said. “If something were to happen, we have so many different ways of solving the problem quickly or at least getting the right authorities the information faster.”
Womack said the district is trying to “bring students to be a part of the solution” to school security by training students in lockdown drills since elementary school and training students to have a more active role if someone were to breach a room. Students are encouraged to use the Report It system if they notice something out of place.
“We as a district take every one of those reports that comes in,” Womack said. “We take them seriously. Someone gets assigned that case and they work the case. It could be the school counselor, it could be a vice principal or principal, or it could be the security officer, but someone will be assigned that case, and they’ll work the case. They’ll talk to the student, then they’ll close the case once it’s been resolved.”
Although it has not been fully implemented yet, the district is hoping to starting training small groups of students to be first responders in response to a violent event. With the Buholtz’s help, the district could start trainings in places such as health classes, med-tech classes, Student Council, or Cub/Boy Scouts programs.
“If you look back at Sante Fe and the shooting in Florida, the people that passed away from those events were mostly because they bled out,” Womack said. “The bullet didn’t actually kill them; it was because no one stopped the bleed.”
Report It and response protocol posters are located in every classroom for students to review. Buholtz said safety is “everyone’s responsibility” and the district has worked diligently to implement security features on all campuses.
“Due to the unfortunate incidents that have happened in the past, state government, law enforcement and fire/rescue agencies, school districts, as well as concerned community members have made a concerted effort to bridge the gap in attempt to create an environment that brings safety and security to the students, staff and visitors while on campus or during events on school property,” Buhotlz said.
Before the start of the school year, faculty members at all campuses participated in CRASE, Citizens Response to an Active Shooter Event, put out by the Texas School Safety Center, and administered with the Fairview Police Department. The training serves to prepare teachers for an incident in which an active shooter entered the campus.
“As we traverse through this school year, there will be subtle changes related to security and training classes provided to teachers, as well as some students – one being comprehensive medical training,” Buholtz said. “If a critical incident ever occurred, it’s imperative that as many people as possible know how to properly provide self-aid and buddy-aid [including] how to properly apply a tourniquet, how to apply dressings, etc.”
Orchestra teacher Mary Winkler said she hopes the PLDs and training will be helpful in the event of an emergency.
“I would assume that if I needed to use it, it would nice because [emergency personnel] could get here really fast because it shows up where you’re at in the building,” Winkler said.
[The training helped with] having to think through what my reactions would be in different situations so I would be better prepared in general.”
With the shootings that made the news in the spring, Buholtz said school security is “on everyone’s radar.” Lovejoy ISD is no exception.
“Each student needs to take safety seriously,” Buholtz said. “The world we live in is unforgiving and bad things could happen at any point in time. Pay attention to your surroundings. Create open dialogue with administration and campus security personnel about any concerns and/or suggestions you may have regarding safety and security.”
Parent had hand in bringing new safety devices to teachers
Help was put in the hands of every staff member on campus by Vanessa Ogle, CEO and founder of Enseo, creator of the MadeSafe personal locator devices.
Ogle was featured in D Magazine in the winter of 2018 detailing “a day in the life of a CEO.”
“[D Magazine] asked me in the article ‘what is something that you’d like to be doing that you’re not doing today?’ and my answer was ‘I’m very happy to be helping keep housekeepers safe in hotels, but I would love to be able to keep my children safe at their schools,’” Ogle said.
On the day the article was released, Ogle was watching her daughter sing at Northpark Mall with the Puster Elementary choir when the article caught Puster principal Kevin Parker’s attention.
“[Parker] happened to have seen the article and said he’s also on the internal committee that studied how [the district] was going to further strengthen the security and safety and wellbeing of the Lovejoy ISD schools,” Ogle said. “He asked to talk to me a little bit about MadeSafe, and he said ‘this is exactly what we need.”’
Ogle met with Womack in the early spring of the 2016-2017 school year, and the process to implement MadeSafe devices in the district was completed five weeks before the start of school. Enseo typically works with hotel companies to bring security to their staffs, and during the first week of September the CEOs of the top five hotel companies in the world made a joint press announcement to make it a “mandatory requirement for all housekeepers to be supported with MadeSafe or something similar by the end of 2020,” Ogle said.
Ogle added that bringing systems like MadeSafe outside of the hotel business and into schools was important because “there’s no more precious resource than our children.”
“While we all are passionate about the safety of our employees and our coworkers, there’s something about keeping children safe and enabling learning to take place which is protecting not just those children, but but it’s actually protecting the future of our nation,” Ogle said.