HARLINGEN — The Uvalde shooting has violated the feeling of security among Harlingen school children.
There’s a destabilizing of consciousness, a loss of belief, a distrust of the foreign as well as the familiar. Such a monstrosity as the slaughter of 19 school children falls beyond the outer limits of known reality and throws everything off balance.
This is terrifying in any instance, but such an incident occurring so close to home has had a fragmenting effect on the minds of local kids, many of whom say they no longer feel safe in school.
Superintendent Alicia Noyola wasn’t surprised.
“I think that’s a common response, especially on the heels of what they just saw,” she said. “I think all of us became very emotional as the result of all that, when we’re talking about young children.”
Noyola pointed out that the safety procedures are more than just running and hiding.
“There are some standard protocols that we practice with our students, but every situation is going to be potentially different,” she said. “I don’t think anybody can predict how something is going to roll out.”
One of those protocols, she said, is to retreat and hide in a room. But school safety is a complex activity with many parts, not all of which are public knowledge.
“I think in some ways we need to all do a better job of sharing with our students, our parents, our communities the various safety initiatives and protocols that we have,” she said. “But you always have to balance that with recognizing that you don’t share all the details because you’re also alerting the person that has an intention to harm. So, it’s always a balance in communication.”
Monstrosities like these, of course, prompt everyone to reassess their protocols. The question at this time, she said, is to determine if people have become too complacent in the consistent exercise of those protocols.
“You always want to make sure that you’re reassessing your protocols and looking at what opportunities become available,” she said. “It is not one singular safety measure that’s going to protect students and staff, it’s all the measures that you put in place happening simultaneously and with consistency.”
The Harlingen Police Department has worked closely with the school district for several years to ensure school safety, posting officers to provide security at some campuses.
However, even unformed officers must present their identification before they can enter campuses, said Harlingen Police Assistant Chief Miryam Anderson.
“What’s really neat is this,” she said. “If I go in uniform to an elementary school, I need to take my ID with me. I will need to present it, and they will have to give me a tag, even in uniform. I believe from what I’ve seen that the school district has very good measures.”
Noyola said the district has a safety committee which meets regularly to reevaluate processes and procedures. The district’s hiring of Danny Castillo three years ago to serve as director of emergency management of school safety has further strengthened safety procedures.
“I think that he has been a godsend,” Noyola said. “He was a former police chief, so he’s got a unique lens that we don’t often see in school systems. He leads all of our efforts here in the school district.”