By Jaimy Jones
Published 2:34 pm, Friday, May 25, 2018
Photo: KRISTI NIX / The Journal
In the aftermath of the mass shooting at Santa Fe High School, Pearland ISD has announced that it will add more law enforcement officers at its campuses in the 2018-2019 school year and that it will hire more mental health professionals.
The district will add to the 11 Pearland Police Department officers designated as school resources officers at its junior high and high school campuses, a district statement said.
Until school ends May 31, uniformed police officers will be at every district school, the statement said.
Already in the works are check-in vestibules to provide a secure, one-way entrance to schools. They will be installed at every campus, and could be at most schools by fall, Superintendent John Kelly said in an email. The district accelerated efforts to provide the vestibules after the Parkland, Fla. school shooting in February that killed 17 people.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott speaks about the shooting at Santa Fe High School, during a press conference at the Santa Fe ISD Agricultural Center Friday, May 18, 2018, in Santa Fe.
Media: Jon Shapley, Houston Chronicle
“We’re slated to have 19 of 23 in place by the start of school in August 2018,” Kelly wrote. “The other 4 require extensive work on the front of the school that must be completed at the same time as the vestibules are installed. In those cases, we will add additional human security presence at the entrance until the vestibules are completed.”
In March, when the board decided to fast-track the security measures, school board vice president Charles Gooden Jr. said, “Understanding the national environment at present, we are accelerating security vestibules and fencing. Administration is still seeking ways to accelerate construction where possible.”
Plans for safety measures are part of a $9.8 million security package approved in a 2016 bond election that will include electronic card readers for staff identification at entrances to facilities, fencing around elementary and middle schools and replacement of outdated security cameras with new ones.
Trustee Crystal Carbone applauded the board’s decision to hire five student support counselors.
“It’s huge; it’s awesome,” said Carbone, who is a licensed school psychology specialist with a dual master’s degree in clinical and school psychology. “These positions are just used for mental health needs. Before it was all on guidance counselors.”
“Support counselors run mental health groups, talk to parents, contact outside help if needed. They’re going to fulfill a need that we’ve had for a long time on our campuses,” Carbone said.
Other positions approved by the board include a guidance counselor, school nurse, three admission, review and dismissal facilitators and one licensed specialist in school psychology.
The total cost for those 11 new mental health positions for the next school year is $ 771,195, according to district meeting documents. Salaries for the six support counselors make up $452,282 of that total.
The facilitators will handle most of the administrative work in the special education program so that counselors have more time to devote to student engagement, Carbone said.
She said that board members approved the positions knowing they may have to go into the general fund to pay for them.
Pearland has joined the growing number of school districts across the nation who are offering active shooter response training for staff members.
Within the past two months, all district employees have received Civilian Response to Active Shooter Events training led by Pearland Police Department officer, Kelly wrote. Campuses also routinely hold lockdown and active shooter drills that are performed every semester with students, Kelly wrote.
After the Santa Fe shooting that killed 10 people only a short drive from Pearland, parents have asked the Pearland district to consider measures like a changing the dress code, using metal detectors or arming teachers who are willing to carry a weapon.
Pearland ISD has a policy prohibiting teachers or staff from carrying weapons onto campus.
Carbone favors exploring options to adjust the dress code.
She said metal detectors sound like an easy solution, but the logistics of operating them every day gets complicated and expensive. However, she thinks that the previously approved bond that the district is using to install the security vestibules, surveillance cameras and key-card access system could offer an avenue to fund meetal detectors if other projects come in under budget and the board agrees.
The issue of student safety extends to society as a whole, Carbone said.
“We also need to look at the undercurrent of what’s going on our culture,” she said. “If we don’t change something, the underlying cause in this… that’s the hardest part. What is causing this?”
At a May 22 school board meeting, several parents applauded the board and Pealand Police Department for posting police officers at all campuses since the immediate days after the shooting.
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