Marfa ISD prepares for a new year by maintaining security

(second in series)

MARFA-Monday marks the beginning of a new school year for Marfa Independent School District students and as each year we witness the increase in threats to student security across the country chipping away at the sacred safety of the classroom; families, teachers and administrators are adjusting to a new reality – interfacing with the perversity of asking and answering a pressing question on a daily basis: How do you create an inviting environment while keeping classrooms secure and students prepared if their classroom suddenly becomes dangerous?

Across the country, at least 330 school safety bills were introduced to state legislatures in 2018, according to data from the Education Commission of the States. Of those bills, at least 53 were signed into law. The majority of the bills that passed focused on general safety measures, such as what to report to law enforcement and how to inform students and faculty of potential threats. Other bills touched on bullying, guns in schools and emergency preparedness.

In Texas, on May 22, 2018, the governor met with superintendents, administrators, and law enforcement officials to discuss possible improvements to the physical safety of Texas Schools. Citing a need to make “our schools and our state a safer place,” Texas Gov. Greg Abbott unveiled a slate of policy and legislative changes on May 30th, that pivot primarily around boosting security at schools and the importance of schools partnering with local law enforcement to plan for emergency situations. The proposals are part of the Governor’s School and Firearm Safety Action Plan — a list of 40 recommendations for making communities safer.

Of course, these recommendations and their respective compliances are conclusions as simple as they are perverse, as necessary as they are abhorrent. As long as security threats are a reality in schools, the anticipation and prevention of them will be, too.

As for Marfa, Superintendent Oscar Aguero has carefully considered the Governor’s recommendations in his own preparation for this school year and the years to come, taking necessary steps to create a bolstered safeguard for his students.

One recommended initiative encourages schools to collaborate with local law enforcement to increases the presence of local police on campus, something Abbott said could be accomplished by adding schools to regular police patrols, and “allowing officers to use campus facilities for routine breaks, or for them to have a room located at that school, where they can fill out their reports.”

Aguero accentuated MISD’s currently effective partnership with the Marfa Police Department. Not only does the police force reside mere steps away from the schools’ buildings, but the force also readily and routinely provides a sense of 24-hour security.

Both the elementary school and Junior High/High schools utilize police patrolling and aid during major crossover times, drop-off / arrival and end of day pick up. Aguero expounded upon their close working relationship with MPD by stating that it was a regular practice for Chief of Police Steve Marquez to walk through campuses twice a week familiarizing himself with the buildings and generating a rapport with students. Both Aguero and Abbott have equated a greater police presence on campus to bonds created between students and law enforcement.

In accordance to Abbot’s recommendation to provide Active shooter and Emergency response training to better prepare campus security to respond to active shooter incidents, The Marfa Police Department is currently participating in the training this week and once complete, will aid in the initial stages of MISD staff training, a four-hour course known as the Civilian Response to Active Shooter Events. The Police Department will collaborate with Aguero to navigate the early stages of planning in alignment with these new security measures and procedures before engaging in the training with faculty, first, then students to follow, as well as commence early stage preparations for a yearly active shooter drill.

As for the recommendation to harden campus facilities by improving infrastructure and design of schools to reduce security threats, Aguero and the MISD school board are currently in conversation regarding development and how to address security proactively, looking carefully at options for infrastructural changes including buzzers for access points, automatic locks, key cards and small architectural adjustments.

However, for now, these upgrades will require far more resources than currently available. Both school campuses currently have a streamlined and systemic door locking procedure for all entry and exit points and highly efficient camera monitoring systems. Cameras, although reactive, have been incredibly helpful in navigating the aftermath of previous incidents and Aguero is confident that they are “doing exactly what they are supposed to be doing”.

MISD has successfully complied with the recommendation to increase the utilization of digital technology and will continue the use of both iWatch, in collaboration with Fort Davis ISD and QuickTips App, which can be utilized by students, teachers, staff, parents and members of the Marfa community.

Lastly, in response to Abbott’s recommendations to increase the number of school marshals on campus, Aguero replied that the program was simply not right for his district at this time. He has considered this program in the past, though it is not currently an option on the table for MISD school systems.