Responding to Tragedy

On April 20, 1999, two students stormed Columbine High School, killing 13 and wounding 21 others. In March of this year, a former student repeated the same horrific act at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., gunning down 33 individuals. Seventeen were killed and an additional 16 people were wounded. Almost two decades separate these horrible tragedies, but our grieving nation still searches for answers and a solution. 

Understandably, these events place a heavy weight on the minds of administrators and school safety officials. The latest mass shootings have motivated local schools to examine and re-examine safety protocols in order to protect students and teachers. Years ago, Frisco ISD school representatives took steps to prepare for such an event, enacting a comprehensive security program addressing preparedness, risk mitigation and prevention for students and their institutions overall. Today, exploration of new protection methods is occurring to re-address all the best practices for school security. “The safety of our students, staff and visitors is our top priority,” explains Kevin Haller, the director of security for the FISD. “On an everyday basis, we are continually analyzing our safety procedures surrounding school security. Whenever an incident of this kind occurs, everyone stops to re-examine and re-evaluate what they are doing to ensure students, staff and visitors are kept safe. Parents are concerned, rightfully so, and they are suggesting numerous ideas for the FISD to consider. Please rest assured, we are very deliberate to do all we can to protect against and prevent a violent threat to our schools and we are doing even more today.” 

Officers in Schools 

The FISD’s multiple security measures are designed to protect schools, train staff and prepare personnel to keep students in the safest environment possible. 

One of these initiatives includes positioning full-time school resource officers at all FISD high school campuses all day, every day. Employed by both the school district and the police department, these individuals are armed and have access to rifles in locked gun safes. Supplementary officers are also present in the middle and elementary schools, managing two to three schools at a time and alternating between each. All officers are highly-trained by the police departments and are equipped with medical supplies and specialized tools to assist in case of an emergency. Officers are also provided daily free lunch in school cafeterias, increasing their visibility in each school with staff and students. 

Mr. Haller continues, “When patrol officers stop in for lunch, not only are they able to eat a meal, but they are able to interact with the kids and see them face-to-face. It also allows them to become familiar with the layout of their school, which would be extremely valuable in the case of an emergency.”

A second security measure offered throughout the district is the award-winning Situational Awareness for Emergency Response (S.A.F.E.R.) program, an innovative partnership between the FISD and the City of Frisco. Working with police, firefighters and emergency responders, S.A.F.E.R. provides live camera access to the inside and outside of FISD schools through screens located inside police cars and fire vehicles. Thus, when a police officer is on route to an FISD campus, he or she has vital details about what is happening inside the building and can prepare accordingly. Before the S.A.F.E.R. program existed, first responders relied on paper maps, lists and documents. Today, they pull up a software program on mobile data computers and identify the best way to address a situation, minimizing any potential damage. 

Additional security measures are in place, such as requiring all visitors to enter schools at one controlled access point. All but one front door remains locked, and when visitors enter the building, they are screened by providing some form of identification, such as a driver’s license. All staff have access to an automatic lock-down switch for the front door. FISD security specialists patrol campuses and perform unannounced security checks and all staff members participate in regular safety drills and active shooter training at all campuses. There are even joint drills with the Frisco police and fire departments. 

“Many parents also have suggested ideas such as metal detectors, arming teachers, implementing a no visitor policy for schools, as well as adding resistant glass for school buildings and powder-sniffing dogs, which would be able to pick up the scent of gunpowder in a weapon. At this point, we are listening to everyone, and we will then make recommendations to the board for approval,” adds Mr. Haller. “Bottom line, this is a very difficult position. We believe schools should be warm and welcoming, but we must make sure our children are safe. It is a delicate balance.” 

For a full list of current FISD security initiatives that are explained in detail, please visit friscoisd.org/departments/security/safe-schools.  

Preventing Future Attacks 

Because of the recent mass shootings, a debate has been reignited over the extent to which mental illness plays a role in violent occurrences. According to a report in Psychology Today, mental health problems have skyrocketed over the past few decades, so, apparently, the U.S. is becoming less mentally healthy over time, for various reasons. 

Of course, this awareness impacts schools and how they may be responsible for their social and emotional climate. The FISD offers a counseling crisis program and team, working with campus personnel to counsel students, groups and associated parties, whether they suffer from their own personal experience or from the aftereffects of a traumatic incident. 

As a licensed private counselor and the safe schools coordinator for the FISD’s Guidance and Counseling Department, James Caldwell oversees all of the district’s prevention efforts, including suicide, bullying and drug prevention. Working with staff and directly with students, he sees numerous warning signs to recognize within peer groups. “Recently, we have been talking to students and staff about how to recognize the signs of distress, anxiety or depression in a fellow student. If a person becomes isolated, has a sudden change in mood or begins giving away possessions … these types of behaviors are something to become very aware of. Notify a counselor or someone in authority as soon as possible.”

Through these efforts, students are much more aware of what is going on with their peers, and rather than feeling like tattle-tales, they are much more willing to speak up and do something. “The FISD encourages the belief that if you see something, say something. Because of this, we are seeing more kids report incidents so an experienced counselor can intervene and give help and support when it is needed,” notes Mr. Caldwell. 

For those who prefer to stay anonymous, ChooseToCare is an FISD online and phone-based “tip-line” for students, parents, teachers or others to share any safety or health concerns. This is another option for those with valuable information who may have concerns or fears about using other established methods for communicating information to school authorities.

Mr. Haller concludes, “Ultimately, when parents come to me expressing their deep-seated fears and concerns, I absolutely believe FISD schools are the safest place for their children. In no other place will you find caring adults where their main focus is learning and keeping their children in as safe an environment as possible. And, we will absolutely continue to do all we can to keep our kids safe. It is the FISD’s promise.”

Carolyn Cameron
Carolyn Cameron is an online writer and marketer who fancies coffee, her family, random creative endeavors and finishing a home project in her off time.