SAFETY AND SECURITY IN TROUBLED TIMES

Recent school shootings in America gravely alter the balance between campus security and desired accessibility for the students and parents served. While Pearland school boards, administrators, and architects worked together for decades to create campuses that are spacious, inviting, and open to the public, the acts of deranged individuals throughout our country, like a python, is slowly constricting  freedom within and around our nation’s schools.

Even the finest moments occurring on our campuses, both during the school day and into the nights – now mix invitation and anxiety – as our people both serve and protect. Campuses remain vulnerable to predators. Among the many heroes of Hurricane Harvey, Pearland High School served as a shelter for the displaced, a headquarters for the police, a meeting ground for community volunteers, and a food distribution center for miles around. Yet even in the midst of such Herculean efforts, risk remained.

Increasingly, 21st century architectural plans for campuses (and the people who manage them) borrow more heavily the designs of prisons: Fences/walls erected to keep the outside world away; armed guards; cameras; monitors. Student movements are restricted, the role of “snitch” is necessary, and the Assistant Principal may sometimes walk the beat like a warden. The balance has shifted.

While anxious Moms and Dads want some sense of certainty that it “can’t happen here”, we can realistically respond that there are concrete ways to lower vulnerabilities throughout Pearland ISD:

  • Perhaps most importantly, we are trying to find ways to efficiently use limited dollars available to school districts for detecting and serving the growing mental health needs of students. Counselors across America (and Pearland ISD is no exception) are overwhelmed.  In the 21st century, the role of educator has expanded to part-time parent, mentor, day care provider, social services broker, and weekday/weekend food distributor.
  • Students are regularly encouraged and helped (anonymously or otherwise) to report potential threats or bullying  – realizing that in most school shootings, there were those who saw warning signs – but failed to understand their significance.
  • In November 2016, voters approved over $200 million for renovating and expanding our current facilities. Many features include enhanced security and safety designs, providing pre-determined and monitored pathways for visitors.
  • In addition, $12 million dollars are specifically designated for safety, security, and entrance upgrades now being planned and installed. These include  security vestibule entrances for every campus, electronic monitoring of all exterior doors, hundreds of additional cameras, perimeter fences, etc.
  • We continue to train our people on various safety/security issues. For example, with the help of law enforcement, we rehearse campus “active shooter drills” designed to thwart an unwelcome campus intrusion.
  • Our visitors and volunteers (along with our entire faculty/staff) undergo criminal records checks – and are issued photograph IDs.
  • We deploy 11 Pearland Police officers full time on our campuses. We also use the much more limited capabilities of unarmed security guards, whose job is to serve as eyes and ears, under the guidance of each Principal. They can provide earlier warnings – and identify vulnerabilities not seen by engaged educators inside their classrooms.
  • There are of course confidential security measures in place, with only police, myself and “need to know” personnel aware.
  • At all times including as I write this, the city and school officials work very well together to meet the myriad of design, safety, security, appearance, and accessibility requirements of every campus we renovate or expand. For example, it may seem trivial, but working with fire/police, we’ve almost eliminated technology related “false” alarms over the past several months. This means a quicker, more intelligent response to any real emergency.

Space (and confidentiality needs) prohibits a more lengthy list of our emergency operations, our K-12 counseling approach, and other relevant considerations. But we appreciate the many members of our community (including those in government, law enforcement, social agencies, volunteers, mentors, and voters) who do more than issue political pronouncements.

May God, in His mercy, spare our community from the campus tragedies others have experienced. And may He inspire us to know and do our part.

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