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Balancing safety and culture at SISD

Sharyland ISD held its second safety and security town hall meeting Aug. 10, where a panel of experts updated parents and the community on the district-wide strategies for the 2022-2023 school year. And while SISD has increased its security measures from previous years, parents that spoke at the town hall felt it is not enough. 

Superintendent Dr. Maria Vidaurri said Sharyland is using a Concentric Circles of Protection philosophy regarding campus safety — meaning they’re focusing on tactics that secure the perimeter and then moving inward toward the classrooms. 

Last month, the district renewed and approved contracts for on-site Mission police officers and security guards from MLG Protection Services. Director of Facilities, Maintenance and Risk Management Mark Dougherty assured parents there is armed personnel at all campuses — news that was met with applause from the audience. 

But at the town hall meeting, the panel of experts expanded on the other new or improved protocols Sharyland ISD implemented for the current school year. 

Some new safety measures include locked doors, access control locks, additional cameras, radios with direct access to law enforcement and an extensive vetting process for campus visitors. Other initiatives include counseling services and annual training for administrators, staff and students, as well as threat assessment teams. 

The district spent the summer conducting door audits, ensuring everything is working correctly. But until officials install electronic access control locks, all campus doors remain manually locked during school hours. 

“We have worked with the campuses to make sure we have single points of entry once class starts,” Vidaurri said. “We do know that in the mornings [and] after school we’re going to have multiple points of pick up and drop off but once school starts, each campus has identified single points of entry, and they’ll get that information out to parents and students.” 

Executive Director of Student Support Services Juan Heredia said the visitor management system requires acceptable documentation for visitors to enter any campus. He warned that there might be a delay in campus access, but it is to maintain the integrity of the security. Heredia assured the parents that any visitor spending any time around students is vetted and has gone through a background check before they step foot on campus. 

Additionally, Sharyland ISD is no longer allowing deliveries during school hours because of the increased security. 

“Every time we open a door, we’re losing a layer of protection,” Pam Montalvo, assistant superintendent of student and support services, said. “We’re not going to be allowing deliveries — forgotten homework or anything like that. Lunch, we will no longer be allowing deliveries because every time someone comes on campus, we are weakening our layers of protection. So we ask for your cooperation with that. That goes the same for our staff as well. So we know that it’s a sacrifice, but it’s worth it.” 

The district is also paying extra attention to social-emotional learning and embedding SEL practices into the academic curriculum. The idea is that prioritizing mental health and character development will help students overall and flag any behavior for educators to monitor. 

While parents and community members expressed their concerns at the town hall, several brought up the May shooting at Uvalde CISD in which a gunman killed 21 teachers and students at an elementary school. And even with the new security and safety protocols, parents had more suggestions. 

One parent spoke of placing AR-15 rifles on campus in case of emergency; another suggested incentivizing teachers to carry firearms. A father asked about bulletproof doors. A different parent said he would prefer more police officers with training instead of armed security guards. He brought up implementing a Sharyland ISD police department, which community members have suggested before. SISD trustees said adding police officers and deploying an in-house police department is both a financial and a manpower issue. 

“Starting your own police department…you’re talking about a budget where we’re making a huge, huge investment,” School Board President Hector Rivera said. “With security comes sacrifice…and we’ve lowered taxes for the last three years. But things that are needed, sometimes, we only work with what we have. We could push [the budget] a little bit but we can’t sacrifice other things like salaires and other important items.” 

Vidaurri said the district would take every suggestion and concern into consideration. She and other panelists said the conversation around district security is fluid and evolving on an as-needed basis. But for now, the goal is to secure the perimeter from the outside, so intruders never make it to the building. 

Director of Counseling Lorene Bazan said although security is a priority, the district does not want to make any additions that scare the kids. She stressed the importance of managing both a safe and welcoming environment. 

“I’m a parent as well and…I’m hearing certain things like bulletproof doors and all this, and it is scary,” she said. “It’s a balance. We want to love our kids, have a great culture, but we want them to be safe.”

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