visitDP
Weather data OK.
Deer Park
72 °F
Weather details

As school safety evolves, goal remains the same

Written by Bobby Vasquez. Posted in Schools

Deer Park ISD croppedIN SCHOOLS
From the doors of the campus to cyberspace, school security and safety has been the priority for Deer Park ISD for decades. Although the scope of the district and technology has changed, the charge of keeping students and staff remains the same. DPISD Assistant Superintendent for Administration Stephen Harrell discussed school security and safety with the Deer Park Rotary Club.

At a recent Deer Park Rotary Club meeting, Stephen Harrell, DPISD assistant superintendent for administration discussed the evolution of school safety and security. Protecting 13,000 students and 1,800 staff across numerous campuses and facilities spanning two municipalities takes focused teamwork, he said.

“It’s a large task and I don’t do it alone. The bulk of the work is done at the campus level and they do a great job of making sure students and staff remain safe,” said Harrell.

Texas education code requires school districts to have emergency operation plans for each of their campuses. Safety and security has four branches of focus: mitigation – preventing and/or lessening the severity of issues, preparedness, response and recovery.

Harrell said the district still conducts monthly fire drills at all of its campuses.

“Students and staff are trained on how to respond to certain emergencies, and we do that through drills,” he said. “We do two shelter in place drills per year and intruder drills.”

Harrell said the district teaches the run, hide and fight philosophy.

“Having an armed police officer on campus does not prevent everything from happening, so we prepare our students and staff on what to do,” he said. “It’s what keeps me up at night.”

Training is fluid, he said. “There’s a big difference in what a teacher would do with a bunch of seniors in class versus what a teacher would do with kindergarteners. Every response is different,” said Harrell. “We cannot just say ‘you do XYZ’ and that’ll work for every teacher in every event. When there’s literature or training that can help us be better prepared, we take advantage of that.

Deer Park ISD also implements reverse evacuations. “If we have students who are outside for recess or a game or practice, how do we get them back inside if we have severe weather or a rabid dog or an outdoor emergency?” explained Harrell.

Every three years, Deer Park ISD is required to complete a safety audit on its campuses through the Harris County Department of Education. During this audit, a person comes to a Deer Park ISD campus unannounced and attempts to get inside without going through the front office.

“We look at this opportunity to get better because they are going to find areas where we are vulnerable or failed somewhere. The fix could be something simple that we can do right then and there or a policy issue where a teacher did not walk an intruder to the front office,” he said.

It takes much more than staff keeps a close eye on who comes in and out of campuses and buildings and everyone inside, he said.

The district uses more than 1,000 cameras to monitor its buildings in what Harrell calls a “robust” security system. The video surveillance program allows the district to archive live footage for a period of time.

“When you find out something happened, it’s never right when it happened. It’s always later on,” Harrell said. “Our system allows us to go back and see what happened and where.”

Anytime a visitor comes to a Deer Park ISD campus, they must enter via the front office where they are vetted through a tracking system. They are not permitted to leave this area and enter the rest of the school until the office gives that person access.

Sometimes, a visitor is a registered sex offender who has a student at the campus. On the rare occasions this occurs, Harrell said staff is trained to take extra precautions.

“They are always within eyesight of an adult working on our campus,” he said. “They are not allowed to roam the halls without some kind of personnel with them.”

Harrell said he and the campus principal are also alerted.

“This doesn’t happen every day or even every week, but when it does, we make sure we know who they are and their purpose for being on campus,” he said.

One of the most important partnerships Deer Park ISD has is with the Deer Park and Pasadena Police departments.

The district and DPPD provide the equivalent of six full time school resource officers while Pasadena police provide officers for the campuses in its jurisdiction.

Harrell also said the district provides assistance for students needing social and emotional wellness.

“We have students who struggle with this and they need support, which they can receive through our excellent counseling and psychological services department,” he said.

Campus counselors are the first line of defense. If they can’t help a student, they will refer the student and parents to someone who can, he said. Other times a student committed an act or said something that requires disciplinary action.

“Sometimes there’s a consequence, but part of it is how do we help them once they completed the consequence,” he said.

The district also strives for internet safety by safeguarding students against inappropriate websites and staff from phishing and identity theft.

“It’s not failproof and we can go back and correct where we can,” Harrell said. “We don’t want to put our students and staff in a vulnerable position, so we do not let our guard down.”

The district also uses those same technological media to interact and inform parents through the Skylert system and social media.

New this year is a program called Anonymous Alert, where anyone can safely and anonymously report issues occurring in the schools. There is a link on the school’s webpage (www.dpisd.org) and an app. Should DPISD administrators need more information from the person making the alert, they can do so and the person’s identity stays anonymous.

Harrell said the safety of students and staff is the district’s top priority and he, administrators and staff are always looking to improve in this area.