SENATORS OPEN HEARINGS ON SCHOOL SAFETY
(AUSTIN) — The Senate Select Committee on Violence in Schools and School Safety held the first of four hearings on campus safety and violence prevention Monday, hearing testimony relating to improving security measures on public school campuses. Lt. Governor Dan Patrick formed the committee following the school shooting at Santa Fe High School on May 10. Committee Chair Senator Larry Taylor of Friendswood, who represents the Santa Fe school district, said that improving school safety is a complex problem involving students, faculty and staff. "This is a multifaceted deal," he said. "There is no one solution. A metal detector is not the end-all."
Monday's hearing dealt with ways to increase school safety through campus design and safety measures, such as access control and security cameras. According to San Antonio ISD Police Chief Joe Curiel, there is no way to make a campus totally secure. "We can fortify our campuses all we want, but that won't guarantee a weapon won't get in," he said. He advocated direct police presence as a deterrent and preventative measure. He believes in a community policing model, where officers are more visible and try to increase positive interactions between officers and students. Improving relationships between students and officers means that students feel more comfortable coming forward to campus officers when they are having a rough time, or know of another student who is. His agency also employs a dedicated intelligence officer, who compiles daily reports of behavioral incidents in area schools, allowing officials to monitor trends or identify a pattern of behavior that might indicate a growing threat. One thing faculty can do immediately to improve safety, he said, is lock the classroom door in the event of an active shooting. "There has not been an active shooter that has breached a locked door," said Curiel. "Lock the door, buy us some time, we are coming."
One idea to prevent mass shootings is better control over the entrances and exits of school buildings. Monitoring who can enter and where could prevent a shooter from sneaking onto a campus carrying a weapon, but it would raise logistical issues. Midway ISD School Resource Officer Jeff Foley told the committee that reducing entranceways for schools with thousands of students could create a bottleneck as students and staff try to enter every morning. Foley also said that security measures should be as unobtrusive as possible. "While we need to do our best to keep these kids secure and keep them safe, we also don't want them to feel like they're in a prison."
The committee also heard from architects who specialize in designing campus buildings. Christopher Huckabee, who chairs the Texas Society of Architects School Safety Workgroup, told members that school design is trending towards more compact structures, built up rather than out. He said means to lock down sections of a school to contain a shooter and video cameras are effective security measures.
The committee will hold another hearing on Tuesday, where they will consider the school marshal program, campus police and arming teachers and staff.