After the horrifying school shootings at Columbine and Sandy Hook, districts started taking a more tactical approach to security. Schools in Palmer ISD started a Guardian Program, arming certain faculty members; and districts such as Ferris started their own district police force.
But rest assured, after the recent school shootings, districts are taking new approaches to providing several layers of safety.
Take, for instance, Palmer ISD, which has three campuses with zero police presence. Instead, an unreported number of faculty members are armed with a concealed-carry handgun. Palmer ISD Superintendent Kevin Noak did say, “There are several on every campus.”
Some keep the handgun on their person, while others lock it up in a hidden safe. It is all part of the PISD Guardian Program.
“We have staff members who are confidential. The only people who know that group is that group. The majority of them do not carry all the time. They have a biometric gun vault somewhere out of sight,” Noak noted.
Members of the Guardian Program treat their firearm as their own, taking it home every day and on the weekends. When the employee returns to work, he or she will place the firearm in the safe and sends a text to Noak to confirm the secure location.
“The program is not designed to seek out and destroy. It’s more of if the shooter decides to open the wrong classroom door. Then we’ll end the threat,” Noack affirmed.
About 90 percent of the members were sought out by Noak himself, and a few others volunteered. He accepted most of those who volunteered, but not all. He said he has to feel comfortable with the individual.
“Not everyone is wired to deal with that situation, so I go based on personality and work ethic, and that’s how I decide,” Noak explained.
Next, members obtain a license to carry and are analyzed by a psychologist in Waxahachie. Members are required to take a 560-question test that is often given to police candidates.
In the summertime, members undergo three, long days of extensive training hosted by a retired officer from Ferris who also trains special forces. He brings along army rangers, navy seals, and gun instructors.
Concluding the training, members act out intense active shooter scenarios.
“The bad guys, they do have real AR-15s. They shoot blanks, and we have a glorified paintball gun that looks exactly like our firearm. It’s pretty intense,” Noak said.
Palmer ISD Curriculum Director Brian Fry assured members involved in the Guardian Program communicate on a regular basis and discuss the topic of school shootings. Recently, the core members met with Palmer ISD chief of police to discuss their process of handling an active-shooter situation.
Noak purchases memberships to the gun range for his colleagues and furnishes ammunition. He encourages those in the Guardian Program to practice as much as possible.
All of which gives the superintendent full confidence in the members of the Guardian Program. When comparing the program to district police departments or school resource officers (SRO) provided by local police, he said, “Personally, I’d put it up against any district police department because of the training we’ve gone through.”
After 20 children and six adults were shot dead at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012, parents in Palmer voiced their worry at the following school board meeting. Concluding the meeting, Palmer ISD Superintendent Kevin Noak recalled, “We’ve got to do something to protect our kids.”
After hosting a community forum with about 80 people in attendance, only one person voiced concerns with having guns in the classroom. At the next school board meeting, the Guardian Program unanimously passed.
Since the program was integrated, Noak has received constant positive feedback.
“Every once in a while, usually after a shooting, unfortunately, I’ll get an email from one of two parents saying, ‘I’m so glad you’re doing this, that we feel our children are protected,’” he stated.
Since the most recent school shootings, Palmer ISD has purchased another layer of protection — a barricade device to slide under every door of every classroom on each campus.
“It’s just one more layer of security. I don’t know if we can put a value on a kid’s life or a teacher’s life — if I can put one more layer of protection. I honestly don’t think a kid or a shooter can get through a door with that on it,” Noak said.
“[...] We are constantly listening and evaluating because, to me, safety is right up there with teaching. It is one of our priorities."
AROUND ELLIS COUNTY
Both Red Oak ISD and Ferris ISD have district police departments. Ferris ISD Police Chief Josh Newman said the idea of specialized district police departments began after 13 people were killed and 20 others were wounded in the 1999 Columbine High School shooting.
The FISD Police force is comprised of four commissioned officers, one chief, a dispatch officer, a security guard, and several reserve officers who occasionally volunteer on.
Newman noted that there is not a difference in a school resource officer and an officer with the district.
“What I see from our end of having an actual officer assigned to a campus is that they get to know the kids and the staff,” Ferris Superintendent James Hartman elaborated. “They are familiar with the operation of the building. They are an interval part of the education, whenever you have an SRO assigned from the city, they are still part of the separate entity. I don’t know if they could truly be integrated into the system like our officers.”
Newman pointed out, "[...] my lieutenant sends out scenario-based testing questions every week, whether it be an active shooter or another situation. We keep those wheels turning constantly.”
The district police department also serves as a resource to the city police by providing active shooter training through C.R.A.S.E. Newman pointed out that usually, it’s the other way around.
District Number of Campuses Safety Personnel
Ferris 5 District Police Department Italy 2 Italy PD makes routinely stops Maypearl 4 No SROs or security guards Midlothian 11 5 SROs and two security guards Palmer 3 Guardian Program Red Oak 11 District Police Department Waxahachie 13 1 SRO and 16 security guards Life Schools 7 Would not disclose Since the recent school shootings, districts like Palmer are looking into adding another layer of safety.
• Italy ISD Superintendent Lee Joffre said he’s looking into devices to bar doors and kiosks for visitors to check in. At their previous school board meeting, the academic calendar passed, which included five designated safety days. During those days, instruction will be focused on safety procedures, which include prevention and response.
• Maypearl ISD Superintendent Ritchie Bowling said plans for the district include upgrading cameras on campuses and buses, adding more key card entry systems, therefore, eliminating standard keys. He also mentioned adding an SRO to the district. Currently, there are no SROs on the four Maypearl campuses.
• For Ferris ISD, the district is in the process of installing a Crisis-Go App and software. This application will provide staff real-time response protocols, maps, rosters, capability, distress functions, reunification measures and much more.
• Coordinator of safety and security for Waxahachie ISD, Erik Kyle, said the district is looking into upgrading cameras to a higher quality and adding more SROs on campus.
• Midlothian ISD is focusing on the current systems they have in place and stressing the use of student and faculty badges.
• Adding additional layers of security and communicating programs and policies in place and reinforcing them.
Ashley Ford | @aford_news | 469-517-1450