â€˜NOTICE: Staff May Be Armed to Protect Studentsâ€™
The newly posted signs on each of the campuses of the Westwood ISD in Palestine certainly get your attention â€“ â€œNotice: Staff may be armed to protect students.â€
The Westwood response to the deadly shooting rampage at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, last year may be a little more straightforward than other school districts in the state and throughout the country. But, it is only one of a myriad of ways public schools are ramping up security in the face of increasing violence on school campuses. At Westwood, officials say they want the public to know, â€œWeâ€™re all about the safety of our children.â€
From installation of panic buttons to revamped, more secure entrances to schools, armed security and surveillance cameras, public schools are finding the resources to tighten security to prevent breaches and keep students safe.
In Texas, many schools are watching to see the outcome of legislation that was filed during the current session of the state legislature â€“ the Texas School District Security Act. It would allow local school districts to create special taxing districts to hold elections for potentially raising sales or property taxes to fund the costs of security measures at public schools. The bill is currently pending in a Senate subcommittee.
In the meantime, school districts are exploring security measures they can implement and a way to pay for them.
The Magnolia ISD is looking into installing surveillance cameras at its junior high and elementary schools throughout the district. Plans being studied include a base surveillance camera plan that can be expanded to up to 64 cameras that will include exterior coverage featuring panoramic HD day and night cameras at most elementary schools and up to eight cameras at a junior high campus. Overall, there would be a minimum of five cameras per campus, with the ability to network those cameras.
There are 48 sworn police officers, 40 security officers and three canine officers in the Edinburg Consolidated Independent School District Police. That number will soon include a new SWAT team. â€œWe felt if we had a SWAT team, we can be better prepared for any intruder or active shooter,â€ said Chief Ricardo Perez Jr., Edinburg CISD Police. Officers also are going high-tech to increase security. Each officer has been issued an iPad, which they can use to access the campus surveillance network to track any movement throughout campuses.
Approximately 750 Texas educators from across the state recently attended a free concealed handgun licensing class at a high school near Arlington.
Texas is not alone in its many efforts to ensure safety at schools. In Allegany County, Maryland, officials are proposing using five off-duty state troopers to provide school security. The plan could well become a pilot program for the state. Troopers would not wear their uniforms to the schools, but would be allowed to user their police vehicles there.
The countryâ€™s second largest school district â€“ Los Angeles Unified School District in California â€“ plans to spend $4.5 million to hire 1,000 new aides this year â€“ security aides. They are not law enforcement officers, but individuals â€œarmedâ€ with neon vests and radios and training in conflict mediation and what to do during a lockdown. Two of these aides will be assigned to each elementary school. While the district has its own police department, school officials do not want armed police or security guards in elementary schools unless they are responding to a reported incident.
The Tennessee State Legislature is considering legislation that would allow schools in the state to hire persons with prior law enforcement experience to serve as â€œresource officers.â€ The goal is to help rural-area districts and financially strapped districts to hire trained, licensed, certified persons to carry a firearm to protect students in those schools.