'School officials looking at ways to enhance safety of campuses'
Dan R. Gist pauses before answering a question on many people’s minds since the school shooting Feb. 14 in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 people dead: Should teachers be armed?
Gist, superintendent of Pilot Point ISD, said he wants to talk to the school board about the subject at its March meeting. However, he is open to the idea of arming teachers, a proposal that has been rasied by President Trump.
“It is an option, and it’s an option we’ve got to consider in today’s state,” Gist said. “It is an option. There are other considerations, but that is a consideration we’ll have to look at.”
Various options are being considered in Aubrey ISD, too, said Aubrey ISD Police Chief Scott Collins, who is in his 18th year in law enforcement. He has been with Aubrey ISD for four years and has been in school law enforcement for 10 years.
“Safety and security is our No. 1 priority at Aubrey ISD,” said Collins. “At this point, nothing is off the table. We’re looking at every possibility that we can, and that is because we do care about our students’ safety and well-being.”
As a member of the National Association of School Resource Officers and a member of the Texas Association of School Resource Officers, Collins said he is in favor of having more police officers who are well-trained and have the state-mandated requirements versus armed teachers.
“I’m not saying that teachers cannot do the job or that they would not do the job, but a well-trained police officer is the key function because of our training and de-escalation techniques,” he said.
Every time a school shooting occurs, Gist said, t h e s u b j e c t o f a r m i n g t e a c h e r s i s b r o a c h e d .
Collins declined to comment on the school marshal program used elsewhere because he did not have a full picture of what it could do.
Like Gist, Aubrey ISD Superintendent David Belding said he wants to talk about security with the board when it meets again this month. “With Chief Collins here, we’ve got a really good, thorough safety emergency plan, not only about response, but also we’re looking at preventive-type measures,” Belding said.
Aubrey ISD always evaluates its security plans to ensure they are up-to-date and robust and that the plans in place are the best way to keep people safe, Belding said. The district also wants to ensure its plans fit the community, he said.
Gist said if people want to harm students, they could get by the current barriers to do so. Metal detectors would not provide much help, as shooters could just blast their way through.
“But having an armed person like an SRO does bring some level of security and force against someone like that,” Gist said.
T h e A u b r e y I S D p o s s e s s e s p o r t a b l e handheld wands that can be used depending on district protocol, such as at high school graduation.
“I think if we used metal detectors here every day, it would upset a lot of people, it would take a lot more staffing and it would lose the country atmosphere that Aubrey has,” Collins said.
Belding said he does not want to run schools like “little prisons” and school officials want to be careful about metal detectors, but he also said he would not want to “stop short on something that would provide safety and security for staff and students.”
The district has been working on developing a protocol for mental health support for students and each campus has created a Connect Act Respond Empower team made up of staff members, teachers and counselors who have been trained on getting help for students in crisis.
“I think that’s an important part of this equation, because safety and security is not just about emergency operation plans and responses,” Belding said.
“It’s also about everybody watching and working together to support kids to get the help they need.”
Securing a high school campus comes with more complications. A high school has many moving parts, such as students arriving at and leaving school at different times and students moving from the main building to activities in separate buildings, such as athletics and agriculture, Gist said.
The push-button entry systems were installed at the high school and middle school two years ago, Gist said. The vestibule was added to the elementary three years ago. The vestibule was constructed into the intermediate school when it opened in 2005.
Aubrey schools also employ locked doors and vestibules. Pilot Point ISD’s school r e s o u r c e o f f i c e r C h a s e Raines has an office at the high school but also visits other campuses. The Pilot Point district does employ an active shooter drill, which it has been doing since 2002-03, and all campuses do those drills through the year.
Aubrey ISD also has an active shooter drill, and Collins oversees those drills as the district’s emergency management coordinator.
The concept of allowing teachers to carry firearms generated more discussion a n d s u p p o r t a f t e r a n armed deputy did not enter Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland to engage the shooter.
Law enforcement agencies established an active shooter protocol after the Columbine massacre in 1999.
Law enforcement personnel are supposed to confront active shooters on campuses in light of law enforcement’s slow response time in entering Columbine High School, where the two students spent 40 minutes or so inside the school shooting their weapons and throwing bombs before committing suicide.
Gist, Belding and Collins said their schools are safe. “Are there some other measures that we can take? Definitely,” Gist said. “I don’t think you can ever quit looking at safety and security and trying to tighten up what you’re currently doing.”
Those ways could include considering people to carry on campus or adding metal detectors, he said. Belding said Aubrey ISD takes safety seriously, and Collins said the district constantly reviews and updates action plans.
The Aubrey ISD Police Department was created in 2013 and functions like any city’s police department so it can handle various emergencies that happen. “When parents of Aubrey ISD students … drop their child off at school, it’s my responsibility to make sure they’re safe each and every day,” Collins said. “That is the highest priority that I take, and I take the most pride knowing that it’s my job to make sure they’re safe.
These educators we have do a wonderful job of educating our kids, and when it comes to school safety, that’s on me.” Collins said it is his job to lay his life on the line for students, staffers and visitors on campuses.
“There’s no way that I’m not going in [if an incident occurred],” he said. “I’m going in, and I’m going to take care of what I need to because the safety and security of kids is No. 1, and it’s my job to make sure those kids are safe.”
For Collins, working as the district’s police chief is “an absolute honor” and he enjoys being able to “serve this community and to have the parents, students and staff trust me for the safety and security of this district for their kids’ needs.”
Pilot Point police Chief Tim Conner said the district deciding to a
rm teachers would be at the district and school board discretion, and the police department would partner with the district if school leaders decide to arm teachers. “We obviously want to be involved in anything that goes on like that, so that we’re all aware of how we will respond together and what we can expect, but the police department doesn’t take a position on whether teachers should or should not be armed,” Conner said. “That’s entirely up to the school.”
Conner said he would like to partner with the district and have a school resource officer at each campus. “I would be grateful for … at least two SROs, where they could split the schools between them,” he said.
The police department partners with the district concerning Raines, as the district does pay benefits toward the SRO, Conner said. “We could not afford to do it alone,” he said. “We would have to partner with them to do additional officers.”
Several people contacted for this story did not respond or refused comment.