School district undergoes first security audit focusing on exterior doors, will install new cameras

MARFA — Last week, the Marfa Independent School District received its first exterior door safety audit, a random security check performed by the Texas School Safety Center at the behest of Governor Greg Abbott as part of a statewide effort to assess school security in the wake of the mass shooting at Robb Elementary in Uvalde last May. 

The initiative to ensure the proper locking of exterior doors is, in part, a result of authorities discovering that the Robb Elementary shooter entered through a door with an automatic lock that failed. The Texas School Safety Center is a research center based out of Texas State University which recently conducted active shooter training for the Marfa Police Department and other local law enforcement officers. 

The exterior door checks began this September, with the school safety center aiming to inspect 75% of campuses and 100% of districts across Texas by the end of the 2022-23 school year. School administrators are given a window of dates in which the audit will be conducted in their districts but are not aware of the exact day of the tests. 

Superintendent Oscar Aguero said a representative from the Texas School Safety Center did not discover any significant findings as a result of the audit and everything went well. He said the officers conducting the audit attempted to enter the school through three separate doors, but were unable to. Visiting safety officers also reviewed the district’s logs which document exterior door checks performed by staff. 

Aguero said school officials have made it a part of their daily routine to walk the district’s campus and double check that all doors are locked. If the Texas School Safety Center was to discover weak points in the school’s exterior door security, they would issue a written report with corrective actions to be taken by the school. It is unclear whether another exterior door safety audit will be conducted by the school safety center this year. 

In other school security updates, the district has received and will soon install 37 new web-based security cameras both indoors and outdoors, said Aguero. At a previous school board meeting it was stated that the new security cameras will cost the district anywhere from $81,000 to $125,000. Per state mandates, the school district has been conducting routine safety drills this school year, including shelter in place, fire and lockdown drills. 

Teachers and students have been trained on protocols for each drill, said Junior High and High School Principal Luane Porter, but the district does not announce exactly when drills will occur. The drills also act as a time to ensure intercom and fire alarm systems are working properly, said Porter. The district’s safety committee is currently working on updating its Emergency Operation Plan, said Porter, and will continue to meet throughout the year. 

Porter said school staff have been working to educate students on the need to secure doors and have been keeping an eye out to ensure all visitors check in at the front desk to receive a visitor sticker. 

“We’ve made announcements throughout the year that students are not supposed to be letting people in the doors,” said Porter. “The teachers are doing an outstanding job teaching their kids how to be safe and then being aware of their surroundings on campus as well.” 

The district is also currently working with the City of Marfa to hire a school resource officer (SRO) who would work under the Marfa Police Department but be paid by and primarily work for the school district. The city applied for a Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) hiring program grant from the U.S. Department of Justice this summer, which would have paid for 75% of the officers salary, if awarded, but recently found out they did not receive the grant. 

In any case, Marfa ISD has budgeted the funds required to pay the officer’s salary in full, said Aguero. Marfa Police Chief Steve Marquez said now that they know they were not a grant recipient, the matter will be re-addressed with city council members and the police department will start advertising the job if given the go ahead by city council and could apply for the grant in the next grant cycle. 

For Porter, hiring a full time SRO to monitor the elementary, junior high and high school campuses would be a key step in bolstering school security. “A single resource officer can’t be everywhere all of the time in case of an incident, but it’s definitely an added layer of security, and [it is] so important to have that presence on our campus,” said Porter.