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How Central Texas school districts are addressing safety and security concerns

Some believe that without gun control reform, lives remain at risk.

AUSTIN, Texas — Editor's note: See this full report Monday night on KVUE News at 10 p.m.

Since the May school shooting in Uvalde that killed 19 students and two teachers, federal and state leaders proposed, passed and ordered updated safety measures in hopes of preventing another mass killing on a campus.

The KVUE Defenders looked into how current and new school safety policies are supposed to keep students and staff safe.

But some, like Melissa and James Tullos, believe that without gun control reform, students and staff remain at risk.

"I'm worried about everything," Melissa Tullos said.

"There's the obvious, straight-up school shooting safety concerns," James Tullos said.

With two children attending Dripping Springs ISD, they're anxious after the Robb Elementary School shooting in Uvalde – despite actions taken by elected officials.

"What do we do now? While they may be individual, little improvements aren't going to really, really make a difference," James Tullos said.

Those "improvements" came after Gov. Greg Abbott allocated $105.5 million for school safety and mental health initiatives in June.

The items with the biggest price tags include $50 million for bullet-resistant shields and $17.1 million for school districts to purchase silent panic alert technology.

Here's how one version works.

Raptor Technologies' silent panic alert system is web-based, so any authorized personnel can use a cellphone, laptop or desktop to initiate a lockdown and contact first responders – quietly.

David Rogers is the chief marketing officer for Raptor Technologies. He counts more than 5,000 school districts nationwide as customers, including several in Texas.

"It immediately opens up an administrative and a general chat. So, I've seen examples of where I've been sitting there with an administrator at a conference and they have a gas leak at their school and he is able to communicate with everybody ... at the site and make sure the gas company comes out there. And they evacuated the school, and he's able to chat with folks. And so, that's like another key aspect that makes it very effective," Rogers said.

"Another is it also allows you to deal with everyday emergencies. So fights in the hallway, somebody sick," Rogers continued. "It has something we call 'team assist,' and that allows teachers if you've got a sick student in class, to be able to summon the nurse. Or if you have a fight in the hallway, to be able to summon the [student resource officer]. So, it provides a lot of other functionality that makes it highly effective."

Rogers said the silent panic alert system also runs off of cellular data.

That's important because the House Investigative Committee report into the Robb Elementary School shooting cited poor Wi-Fi coverage as a reason some teachers and administrators didn't get notifications.

The report showed that Uvalde Consolidated ISD started using Raptor's alert system in March 2022 and that the school district had used Raptor's visitor management system for 10 years.

"The technology itself, in terms of being able to notify and quickly get out alerts, works very well," Rogers said.

Here is the letter Raptor sent to the House Investigative Committee:

Before the House report, Gov. Abbott charged the Texas School Safety Center with conducting several safety reviews, including "in-person, unannounced, random intruder detection audits on school districts."

According to a Texas School Safety Center spokesperson, inspectors are expected to take training in August before starting the intruder audits in September. 

Since 2019, Texas school districts have been required to create behavioral threat assessment teams. The groups are charged with identifying students who pose a threat. School districts are also supposed to have emergency plans in place.  

Senate Bill 11 was passed in 2019 after the mass shootings at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and Santa Fe High School in Santa Fe, Texas. Seventeen people were killed in Parkland, and 10 people lost their lives in Santa Fe. Senate Bill 11 allowed districts to "harden" schools, or increase the physical safety of schools.

At Buda Elementary School in Hays County, school officials take school hardening seriously. 

Jeri Skrocki is Hays CISD's director of safety and security.

"So, typically what you're going to see is, probably going to be an area right here," Skrocki said, showing the KVUE Defenders how new law enforcement workstations will be set up at all 15 elementary schools. "It's really primarily for them to write reports."

It's an incentive for law enforcement's presence on campuses.

This is on top of existing security measures, like a card access system for doors that remain locked throughout the day.

There's also a safety vestibule, or an area where visitors wait until staff members grant access. Guests are then met with a visitor management system that checks IDs.

The KVUE Defenders also wanted to examine classroom doors and locks.

"We don't have interior locking mechanisms on our doors because our policy is doors stay locked all the time," Skrocki said.

For Buda Elementary and Hays CISD's 14 other elementary campuses, Skrocki said the district plans to hire three law enforcement officers to patrol this school year. That adds to the district's 12 school resource officers (SROs) contracted from the Hays County Sheriff's Office.

Skrocki's office is also expanding, getting extra manpower to maintain safety and security.

"I feel 100% confident that the systems we have in place are going to do what we expect them to do and are going to keep our staff and our students safe, 100%," Skrocki said.

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz backs school hardening. He introduced the "Protect Our Children's School Act" in July.  

It would allow schools to use previously unspent federal COVID-19 education-related funding to improve school security.

"It seems to me a common-sense step to say that if those funds are available, it is a real priority to make our schools safer. We keep seeing these horrific crimes of lunatics targeting our kids. All of us want to see our kids safer," Cruz said.

KVUE reached out to two groups that represent educators and public school employees to get their reactions to the new school safety proposals.

Shannon Holmes is the executive director of the Association of Texas Professional Educators.

"I think the fact that we're going to do some auditing of those is a good thing because, you know, the more that we can hold folks accountable, the more things are going to get done," Holmes said.

A former superintendent, Holmes said he knows firsthand that safety and intruder audits work and that safety and security issues on campuses are not school related.

"We've got more of a societal issue. That's where these things are being acted out on school campuses ... So most of these things are threats that come from outside the school campus, not from within the school campus," Holmes said. "And so, I think that we've got to find a way, whether it's, you know, at the legislative level or at the local level, to think through how do we make our campuses secure but welcoming to students."

Clay Robison with the Texas State Teachers Association (TSTA) isn't as sure.

"I mean, you got to do more than lock your doors and you've got to do more than do audits ... The bottom line is the availability of guns to people who should not have them. And that is what the governor and the Legislature, the majority, refused to do. They refuse to even talk about it," Robison said.

The TSTA is fighting for gun reform, like raising the minimum age to buy assault-style weapons from 18 to 21.

Robison said he knows any gun reform is an uphill battle in Texas.

"Some districts are requiring clear backpacks. The reason they're doing that is because we don't have gun reform. That's the main reason. What do they want to find in those backpacks? Maybe drugs, maybe knives. But what they really want to find and what they really don't want to find in those backpacks are guns," Robison said.

But gun reform is something James and Melissa Tullos said is way overdue.

"I grew up shooting guns. I grew up hunting. I knew people, I went to school with people who would have had a serious protein deficiency in their diet if not for hunting. I mean, they relied on deer hunting to get meat. But you do not use an AK-47 to go hunting," Melissa Tullos said.

After 34 mass shootings in Texas from Jan. 1 through Aug. 2 of this year, James and Melissa Tullos hope lawmakers will take up gun control when the legislative session starts in January.

Part of the hardening of schools includes the School Marshal Program, which allows districts to arm teachers. According to the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement, there are 256 marshals in 62 school districts as of July 25.

There are more than 1,200 school districts in Texas. 

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