By CRISTIN REECE and CHERIL VERNON
As incidents of cyberbullying and school violence increase, local school administrators and law enforcement want to help parents and students stay safe (and sane) this school year, both on and off campus.
Palestine Independent School District recently installed outdoor security posts, which visitors would be required to check in at before entering the buildings, at Washington Early Childhood, Story and the junior high campuses. The district’s other three campuses already have security points.
“They’re like a bank teller’s window,” PISD Director of Finance David Atkeisson explained. “Every visitor is required to check in at these windows before they are allowed in.”
Since the Newtown, Conn. school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary on Dec. 14, 2012 brought awareness to the safety issues of glass in school doors, WISD began making improvements to its campuses this summer.
“We have replaced much of the glass with solid walls and heavy duty doors to inhibit easy access,” WISD Superintendent Dr. Ed Lyman said. “We tried to take some of those lessons from other school shootings in mind when considering the architecture of redoing doors and the facades of our campuses so that exposure from the street would be safe from a drive-by shooting or any other kind of attack.”
The security improvements were installed over the summer months. Westwood Independent School District was also able to implement most of its plans for security upgrades, according to Lyman.
“We’ve added additional cameras this summer and have had training for all of our teachers on school safety,” Lyman said. “Whatever measures are reasonable to prepare for those unfortunate events that hopefully will never come to Westwood, we have prepared the best we can.”
In addition, more teachers at Westwood have been recruited for the district’s Guardian Plan, which allows board-approved and specially trained school district employees to carry a concealed weapon. WISD is one of two districts in Anderson County that has a Guardian plan. Cayuga Independent School District approved a similar plan in February.
PISD also participated in an external safety audit earlier this year.
“We did well, and got several ideas on how we can improve security across the district,” Atkeisson said. “We all take the safety of the students very seriously and are trying to stay on top of the many issues that continuously arise.”
Atkeisson said the district also continues to employ annual interlocal agreements with both city and county law enforcement and the Anderson County Emergency Management office — all of whom helped the district develop its emergency operations plan, which is reviewed every year.
“The Palestine Police Department also provides us a school resource officer, who’s officed at the high school,” Atkeisson said.
One issue school officials continue to be keenly aware of isn’t really new, but new technology is making it more difficult to combat is bullying — more specifically, cyberbullying. Several recent incidents of teens committing suicide across the country have been blamed on the effects of being bullied via social media like Facebook and Youtube.
“We are always diligently watching for these types of incidents and try to deal with them as quickly as possible,” Atkeisson said.
The district also employs several age appropriate programs at each campus on bullying and what to do if a student is a victim or sees someone else getting bullied.
Lyman encouraged parents and community members to come forward with ideas on school safety.
“We are open to suggestions that are reasonable to keep our kids safe,” Lyman said. “This is a work in progress. We have to find a way to keep our children safe. We are constantly looking for ideas and improvements.”
And campus hallways aren’t the only places school officials are watching out for their young charges. School officials also want to remind drivers to watch out for school buses and for students around bus stops.
“Although school buses are the safest way to get them to school, about 20 school-age children die in school bus-related traffic crashes each year throughout the nation,” the Texas AgriLife Extension Agency’s website states. “The greatest risk is getting on or off the bus. Most of those killed are pedestrians, 5 to 7 years old. Adults can help avoid school bus related injuries by observing all school bus rules when they are driving and by teaching their children to follow school bus safety rules.”
Texas law prohibits passing a stopped school bus. Motorists traveling in either direction on most roadways are required to stop for school buses that have their lights flashing and the visual signal out. On a divided highway (one that has a median between opposing lanes of traffic), only drivers on the same side as the bus are required to stop.