You are a parent. You watch the news. You saw what appears to be unfathomable mischief in response to the May 24 shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, where an 18-year-old, who had apparently been bullied there, raped security, murdered 19 young students and two teachers and injured 17 others.
Earlier in the day, he had shot his grandmother in the face at home. She has lived.
Nearly 500 officers responded to the school. None attempted to attack the shooter for more than an hour as the shots continued to ring out.
This is just the latest of so many that we are perhaps becoming numb to it. Columbine. Sand hook. Marjorie Stoneman Douglas. Now Uvalde. These are just the big ones. There are dozens more.
Could South Tempe or West Chandler be next?
As each shooting terrifies students, educators, parents and communities and rekindles debates over gun laws, our area school safety teams pay close attention, monitor, learn and update best practices in their best effort not to be next.
Our three public school districts – Tempe Union High, Tempe Elementary and Kyrene – as well as the private Valley Christian High in West Chandler are not arrogant but confident that they are in good standing.
They share a common strategy of being proactive rather than reactive to campus and student safety.
“We’re not just school district employees,” said Mike Minghine, Tempe Elementary District assistant superintendent for administrative services. “We are parents, we are aunts, we are uncles. So it’s very personal for all of us, and this incident elevates the way we approach it, especially at the start of this year.
In the Tempe Union School District, which includes Corona del Sol and Marcos de Niza High Schools, the district works with FEMA, Homeland Security, Tempe and Phoenix Police, and other area law enforcement. in hopes of stopping a potential fatal event. before he becomes one.
“When you think about our core values of ‘students first’ and ’employees matter’, when you look at school safety, security and an orderly environment, those things have to be the first task for us” , said Sean McDonald, deputy superintendent of TUHSD. neighborhood operations. “If our staff, our students or our families feel that they are not in an environment that will be safe, secure and orderly, they will not be able to learn, and then we will not be able to meet our mission of excellence in teaching and learning.
TUHSD has hired security guards around the clock to monitor the campuses. It runs a 10-day training academy that includes de-escalation strategies for all security personnel. They take walk-throughs of all buildings to reinforce fences, surveillance cameras and radios.
The district also has school resource officers on its campuses, a source of controversy last year when some community members objected to keeping armed police officers on campus.
Case histories are studied. Exercises are carried out.
“There are a lot of things we could see through our security guards and surveillance cameras that would trigger a lockdown before a suspect even gets close,” said McDonald, who completed a FEMA training session from a week in Pennsylvania.
“We are always in the process of evaluating and carrying out analyses. What are our strengths and weaknesses? What are the opportunities and what are the threats? We watch all of this often.
So did Kyrene’s security officials.
Like most school districts in Arizona, Kyrene has spent the summer fielding calls and emails from families and concerned staff in the wake of the Uvalde tragedy.
Kyrene has launched a new section on its website, kyrene.org/safe, to give families and employees details about the district’s emergency operations plan, key personnel and campus safety features. The information was shared during a July 8 presentation to the Kyrene Board of Directors.
“The safety of students, staff and visitors is our top priority,” said Kyrene Superintendent Laura Toenjes. “Kyrene provides a safe environment for teaching and learning through ongoing training, secure facilities and a comprehensive emergency operations plan.”
Toenjes added that plans are continually reviewed and updated to adapt to changing needs, and she spoke of the importance of supporting students’ social and emotional well-being in addition to their physical safety. .
Damian Nichols, Kyrene’s executive director of emergency management, said standard security features on Kyrene campuses include perimeter fencing with 360-degree virtual video, electronically controlled locks and badge access, and controlled visitor access through single entry points and secure lobbies. .
Kyrene also focuses on cybersecurity, Nichols said. Cyber surveillance can collect digital evidence of bullying, threats or warning signs of suicide.
“We have a lot of tools in place,” Nichols said. “We have artificial intelligence in the background, but we also have human review.”
Kyrene’s safety and security staff includes an emergency management team, school resource officers, retired law enforcement officers and a group of volunteers who conduct security patrols, check equipment and provides on-site support for active events.
Kyrene works with half a dozen law enforcement agencies to develop school safety plans and coordinate emergency response. Leaders and key staff at each Kyrene campus receive training in Active Incidents, Stop the Bleed, CPR, and other lifesaving skills.
Providing a safe learning environment is a priority, according to Tempe Elementary’s Minghine. He said staff receive ongoing training and know emergency response, lockdown, lockdown, evacuation and shelter-in-place procedures.
“One of the things we make sure to do is integrate the social and emotional components,” Minghine said. “We have a crisis response team at the district level. We provide advice. We are also attentive to communication with families to keep them informed.
At Valley Christian High, principal Josh LeSage says campus security “was in the right place” when he arrived two years ago.
“Yet from day one, we made multi-layered upgrades and enhancements across campus to enhance what was already there,” LeSage said. “We have not taken any drastic action following what happened at Uvalde, as we feel our campus was already extraordinarily safe and secure. But we have conversations about how we can make it even safer and more secure.
“As a Christian school, our first priority is to pray for the families affected. We absolutely 100% believe that the creator of the universe is on the other end of the line.
“We speak to him and we believe that the Christian community has a responsibility to support these families and these communities in any way possible, not only through prayer but also in a pragmatic way.