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Security scrutinized: Parents question safety practices

By Richard Greene | Published Saturday, December 1, 2018
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Four parents questioned Decatur ISD’s safety and security planning Monday night during open forum of the school board meeting.

Multiple parents cited an email from the spring sent by the district saying the plan was updated and then referenced a conflicting article in its Decatur Impact magazine this fall saying it was being updated for the first time since 2010.

The email was sent May 18, 2018, after the shooting at Santa Fe High School near Houston.

“As a mom [the e-mail] made me feel good that we were taking these extra measures to ensure that our students were safe and that this could happen anywhere,” said April House. “What did not make me feel good was to read the article in the October issue of Decatur Impact on updating our crisis management plan that has not been updated since 2010. The TEA mandates that it’s updated every three years and reviewed every 12 months.

“I have personally reached out to DISD employees, and every story has been the same – the crisis management available to them has not been updated since 2010. There’s sheets where it should have been reviewed every 12 months, and that’s blank.”

House said she felt the trust with the community had been broken.

“Once that trust has been broken, I am not sure how it can be repaired,” House said. “I’m asking you to hold a public meeting to address these concerns. Show the community you’re serious about upholding your goals of open communication. The public deserves to hear and see from the school board that they are holding the administration accountable.”

After the meeting, Decatur ISD Assistant Superintendent Steve White told the Messenger the plan was current and presented to the board Oct. 15. The board did not take action on the update that was handed to them in envelopes.

“We have a current security plan, and we’re not sharing it with the public,” White said after the meeting. “I gave [the board] copies of it, and they know what’s in it and also the principals and our staff.”

White, who was in charge of facilities, maintenance and security, turned in his resignation for personal reasons Wednesday.

He said Monday that he spent a couple of months updating the plan that had not been updated since 2010.

In his presentation on Oct. 15, White said the document he gave the board addressed prevention and threat assessment, location procedures, parent location, campuses, law enforcement, EMS and fire department coordination of resources.

He added that campuses would be putting together threat assessment teams and two-way radios were going to be purchased for outbuildings.

Wednesday, Superintendent Judi Whitis said the district is continuing to revisit the plan. Along with pointing out the active shooter training before the start of the school year, installation of video equipment and the closing of the high school campus during lunch, she said the radios had been purchased and the campuses had put together their threat assessment teams.

“We are gathering names for the district team,” Whitis said.

She said the district will also initiate meetings with first responders about the plan. She added that next week’s administrative staff meeting will be dedicated to student safety, and a presentation will be given to the public at the next school board meeting.

After Monday’s meeting, Whitis said about the plan: “We are taking it from where it’s been and moving it forward. Whether it’s compliance or where we want to be are two different things. We want to be far above and beyond the expectation of what the state says. We are working toward that, and we’ve done everything from staff training, the Rave app and the doorbells.”

Along with questions and concerns about the crisis management plan, Lori Reeves and Sharyn Helm brought up frustrations about communication from the district during and after incidents.

Reeves mentioned the lockdown in November at McCarroll Middle School prompted by the escape of a patient from the neighboring mental health facility.

“My concerns came to a head Nov. 8 when there was a lockdown at McCarroll Middle School,” Reeves said. “I didn’t find out as a parent until at least an hour after the lockdown was lifted. I learned more from the Wise County Messenger about the reason for the lockdown than I did from our own administration.”

Reeves, an attorney, said the incident prompted her to do some research and “what I discovered shows me that we are in crisis in this community. I’m laying this crisis at the feet of the school administration to remedy, and it’s at your feet as the school board to hold the administration accountable.”

Reeves questioned the district’s compliance with Texas Education Code 37.108 that mandates schools have a safety and security plan and conduct audits every three years.

Reeves said she would be requesting, as provided in the law, to verify the audit report to make sure the plan had been reviewed in the past 12 months.

Helm pointed out there have been 171 school shootings since 2010.

Wednesday, Whitis said the district is working on protocols for communication after incidents. She said the district is limited in the information they can release.

After Monday’s meeting, School Board President Cheri Boyd said: “school security is always going to be an ongoing conversation. There’s always going to be ways we can make changes and improve upon it.

“It’s going to be an ongoing process to keep these kids safe. Almost all of us have kids in the school district, and this is not something we take lightly.”

When asked about the concerns about the email from May and status of the crisis plan, Boyd said it’s been addressed.

“When people are unwilling to hear what they want to hear, they unfortunately fill in blanks,” Boyd said. “There’s not one of us that sits on this board, that’s in the administration building or an administrator on any campus, that you can convince me that safety of the kids is not a concern.”

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