School safety after Santa Fe: How safe are Orange County schools?

Published 10:11 am Wednesday, May 30, 2018

By Ginger Broomes

The Orange Leader


What should be on a parent’s mind this time of year is the graduation of their student. Plans for the future. Or plans for upcoming summer break. But what is likely on the minds of parents across the country is the safety of their kids.

Worry is always there when you’re a parent, to some extent. ‘How’s my child doing in school? Does she make friends? Is she being bullied?’ But more and more parents are now asking a question that no parent should ever have to ask: ‘when I let my child go to school for the day, will he or she come back?’

It is a horrible fact of this modern life, that we live in a time that the one place in which our kids were always safe, is now the one place we worry about. No longer is it just the stranger at the local park. It is someone they see every day. And it is the place they go each day from age five to 18.

In 1999, school shootings were largely unheard of. Then Columbine happened.   And it seemed to keep happening again and again.

In 2018 alone, statistics show 22 school shootings across the United States. It’s become a terrible tradition. There are flowers, balloons and teddy bears placed at the location of each tragedy. Grief counselors are called in. It seems as if there are two sides in the aftermath: one side calling for the banning of all guns, the other side placing the blame on bullying, parents of the gunman, video games and society.

There are candlelight vigils and moments of silence. And protests, like we’ve seen especially following the shooting in Parkdale, Florida, where students took to the streets to demand stricter gun control. It’s a war that has been raging now for almost 20 years, and, with Santa Fe, Texas only a week ago, it seems to have no end in sight.

And the debate about what’s to be done goes on and on. In the meantime, what’s actually being done about it? What measures are being taken to keep kids safe?

Just as Columbine changed the landscape in 1999, teachers, school administration, lawmakers and law enforcement have had to adapt. Most shooters cite one of their motives for such horror is because they were bullied at school. Whereas bullying used to be seen as just a childhood rite of passage, it is now, for the most part, frowned upon, or at least brought to the forefront, with tools available now instead of just platitudes like “Suck it up”.

For example, Bridge City ISD, Orangefield, Little Cypress-Mauriceville and West Orange-Stark all have on their websites anti-bullying policies, and procedures for the students to report it.

Both Bridge City and Orangefield also have a “Tip-off” page online, to anonymously report suspicious activity around or in the school. All of the above-mentioned schools’ online handbooks also appear to have drills and procedures in place for emergencies.

Even the homepage for Little Cypress-Mauriceville CISD was updated after the school shooting in Parkdale, Florida in February with the following message:

“Little Cypress-Mauriceville CISD is deeply saddened by the recent school tragedy in Florida and extends our heartfelt sympathies and condolences to the families, friends, school system, and all of those impacted by this great loss.

With our students and staff making another transition, we want to reassure our parents, guardians and constituents that Little Cypress-Mauriceville CISD has proactive measures in place regarding student and staff safety.”

“It raises your awareness. You go back and review your plans,” said Greg Perry, assistant superintendent for Little Cypress-Mauriceville ISD, when asked if Santa Fe had changed any of the school district’s safety procedures.

He said the district already had a designated safety and security coordinator, and staff routinely performed lockdown drills. Security cameras are located throughout the campuses, and staff was already scheduled to participate in active-threat response training and attending conferences this summer.

LC-M, like Bridge City and Orangefield, also has an anonymous tip line, and they keep law enforcement updated. Perry said a lot of extra training was put in place after the Sandy Hook shooting.

“Once someone submits a tip, an immediate alert is sent to a staffer,” Todd Lintzen, superintendent for Bridge City, said of their tip line.

Bridge City schools also have security cameras, along with secured foyers and police officers on patrol. Lintzen said staff is meeting with law enforcement in June to ensure they are being proactive.

As far as prevention, Lintzen stresses, “We make a concrete, uniform effort to make sure there is a good rapport with staff and all students. We encourage communication between parents, students and the community to ensure as safe an environment as we can.”

As most perpetrators of school shootings post at least a hint of their intent on social media, it would seem that would be the best place to monitor. However, there is the First Amendment, and teachers cannot – and should not have to – be everywhere at once, and therefore can’t monitor social media for possible threats. This is where the parents – and other kids – come in, and why the anonymous tip lines at the schools exist.

Even with that limitation, Lintzen said staff keep aware of what’s going on among students as best they can.

Greg Perry echoed that sentiment of being aware of what’s going on with the kids.

Some have argued that arming educators is the way to prevent future tragedies. And others say that schools need to be “softer”, not “harder”, by focusing more on mental health of students. But with education spending limited as it is, it would take yet more laws and changes to make this a reality.

After Parkland, several “experts” in the study of school violence penned the “Call for Action To Prevent Gun Violence In The United States of America.”

Their theory was to take a public health approach to school shootings, such as prevention, like in the case of any public health illness.

Their plan calls for universal background checks, a ban on assault-style weapons, and something called Gun Violence Protection Orders: a type of emergency order that would allow police to seize a gun when there is an imminent threat.

However, the killer in the Parkland, Florida murders had every kind of intervention possible, it seemed. Warned by students, authorities, and kicked out of school.   All the protocols were followed. But he was still able to purchase an AR-15 and murder other kids.

These same experts say that if you devote resources to shutting down bullying, discrimination and harassment, it could de-escalate conflict before it starts, as most killers cite bullying as their cause. Outside of parental control, it seems the schools that create rapport between authority figures and students have a better chance of students coming to administration and reporting a problem.

It does seem that the schools in Orange County have made, and are making, good strides in these areas. Overall, they are fostering communication between adults and kids, have security in place and have anti-bullying protocols in place.

Orange County law enforcement also works closely with the school districts in this aspect.

Captain Robert Enmon with the Orange Police Department says that if they do hear of threats, they take that threat very seriously.

“If there was a credible threat made to any of the schools, we had officers at every school. Either in marked or unmarked vehicles,” Enmon said.

The department also has routine drills they practice for these situations, although, he says, they have to rely on the school districts to report problems, as they are the ones who are more in tune with the kids.

Rickie R. Harris, superintendent of West Orange-Cove Consolidated ISD, said they have officers on every campus to ensure the safety of their students, and have a direct line of communication with local law enforcement.

During the school year, the WO-S district conducts safety drills at campuses, and has a crisis management plan to protect the students. They also encourage an open line of communication between students and administrators, and ask students and parents to keep them informed if they hear of possible threats.

“I do informally talk with our students; and, I do receive emails from students who let me know their concerns. We try to address those issues as we receive them. We are also researching ways to receive anonymous tips,” said Harris.

“We try our best to identify students that are struggling and/or having emotional issues. Our goal is to connect them to the additional services that they need,” Harris said.

As much as the powers that be try to keep up or get ahead of this, or prevent it, maybe the solution is with the kids themselves. After all, they see many of the warning behaviors that the perpetrators keep hidden from authority figures, for the most part. Facebook, Snapchat, etc. seem to be the stage on which these kids promote their killing agenda. An anonymous reporting system, is a good start. And it should go without saying – but, as Santa Fe reminded us, it must be said yet again – adults need to keep guns locked up. The key must be prevention in the first place; so hopefully there will come a day when grief counselors and candlelight vigils are no longer needed.


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