School safety: Protection of our students-requires adequate training

The may 24 massacre at a Uvalde elementary school has brought new scrutiny to school security measures, and their inconsistency is evident. In the Rio Grande Valley alone some districts, including Harlingen, have forged agreements with city law enforcement; others including Brownsville have their own police forces and still others hire security guards or security companies to patrol their campuses.

Different levels of security bring different levels of training at the various schools, and different levels of armament. School police might carry weapons while security guards might not.

An Aug. 16 incident at Brownsville’s Porter Early College High School underlines the need for school security to be as well prepared as possible. According to reports, Brownsville ISD police fired their weapons in the school parking lot that was filled with parents dropping off their children for the first day of school. School officials said the officers fired warning shots at a car that was driving erratically, but the shots triggered a panic among the other drivers.

The school was locked down immediately.

At an Aug. 25 district school security meeting, which Gov. Greg Abbott ordered at all districts after the Uvalde shooting that left 19 students and two teachers dead and 17 others injured, Patricia Valenzuela, a parent representative on the security committee, praised the district and blamed parents for the panic that ensured.

“… That day, sadly, it was a huge failure and it was not on your side,” Valenzuela told district officials. “The failure came from us the parents and the whole community.” She criticized parents for acting hastily and not waiting for school officials to tell them what had happened.

That’s hard to do while the incident is still happening. The parents only knew that shots were fired while they were queued up in a crowded parking lot, police officers had their weapons drawn and a car was driving erratically. Panic is not an unusual response.

Training is important, not only with regard to a person officers are confronting but also with the surrounding situation. Officers need to be aware of people in the vicinity. Warning shots can be just as deadly as targeted shots; a bullet can travel more than a mile — unless it hits something along the way. That something can be an innocent person walking half a block away, or one of the parents sitting in a parking lot line.

To their credit, BISD normally is open with its security measures and even offers a Citizens’ Police Academy where interested people can learn about its police force and even ride along with officers. But they can’t ensure that the public will know what officers are doing as an incident unfolds.

As violence continues at our nation’s schools, districts and their security personnel must constantly review their preparation and improve it whenever possible. They need to take every measure they can to ensure that their security personnel perform in ways that are effective and keep the risk to the general public as low as possible.