Safety in spotlight for Pine Tree, Longview and Spring Hill ISDs

As students return to classrooms, Longview school districts have implemented some safety and security protocol changes to reassure parents that students are in good hands.

Pine Tree ISDJack Irvin, Pine Tree ISD director of transportation, safety and security, said a big goal for the district is ensuring the safety of campuses at all times. But that isn’t anything new as Irvin said security always been a big focus.

All teachers and staff are trained every year on safety precautions, such as locking classrooms and locking themselves in if an emergency arises, Irvin said.

Some area districts are implementing the Guardian Program for the first time this year. But Pine Tree ISD is going into its second year as part of the program, which authorizes specifically authorized district employees to carry firearms on campuses.

The guardian plan was initiated in December 2020, and Irvin said the impact has been fantastic.

“We take a very defensive statute when it comes to protecting our kids,” he said. “Just like you do as a parent at home, you’re going to protect your family. We love our kids, we love our teachers, we love our community and we’re going to protect our kids.”

He also said another change was a recent joint training operation with the Longview Police Department, Longview Fire Department and Hallsville ISD Guardian Program participants.

“We worked side by side, hand in hand, with members of the Longview PD and also Longview Fire Department in an active shooter training,” he said.

Irvin said every campus does not have a full-time officer, but the officers are constantly going around campuses.

“We have officers moving around to certain areas of the district, geographical areas. They’re constantly on the move, and, of course, our Guardians are supporting from the inside,” he said.

His said district has layers of security within the buildings and safety precautions in place, which he is unable to detail because of safety reasons.

He also urges parents not to forget their identification when visiting a campus.

Longview ISDDuring a recent board meeting, Longview ISD Superintendent James Wilcox and other district leaders told trustees about some steps taken toward better campus security and said additional training and other measures will be taken.

The state is mandating some of the measures, including an exterior door audit.

“Our maintenance crew has been checking every door in the district, documenting issues and making necessary repairs, Wilcox said.

That audit has to be submitted to the state’s School Safety Center. The Longview Police Department conducted active shooter training at campuses this summer, and additional training will be provided to staff now that school has started. Students also will receive training.

“Everything is on the table,” Wilcox said of potential security measures, and that includes considering the Marshal program, which arms teachers on campuses and allows them to act as pseudo peace officers in place of law enforcement, if necessary.

Those staff members must undergo 80 hours of training and a psychological exam granting them access to a firearm on campus. It is otherwise against federal law to have a firearm in a school zone, according to the Texas Tribune.

Longview ISD trustees asked about the potential of school resources officers on every campus. Those officers are provided through a contract with the Longview Police Department, but Wilcox said the police department and sheriff’s office have staffing issues, which would make it difficult to put those officers on every campus.

The district is supposed to have three school officers provided by Longview police but has one right now, Wilcox said.

Also, the district’s safety committee, the company that provides its security cameras and Longview police officers will be walking campuses to assess and make recommendations about security measures.

Spring Hill ISDSpring Hill ISD Superintendent Penny Fleet said the district is working on the highest possible level of safety implementation.

“Spring Hill ISD is working diligently to ensure all district safety procedures and state requirements are implemented at the highest possible level,” she said. “The school safety committee held two summer meetings to address safety and security plans, protocols, and state mandates.”

According to Fleet, the safety committee addressed the following:

Summer safety audit mandated by Texas Education Agency;

Exterior door audit;

School safety training for all staff;

Behavioral threat assessment training;

Safety contracts signed by all staff;

Weekly exterior door checks;

Unannounced door checks by TEA and Texas School Safety Center;

Emergency operations plan review and submission;

Main entrance access control; and

Additional strategies to enhance the safety and security of the district.

Although Spring Hill is not participating in the Guardian Program, Fleet said the safety committee is discussing all options to enhance safety and security, including that program.

Fleet wants to let parents know that the safety of students is the No. 1 priority.

“The district is working closely with the Longview Police Department and other first response agencies. All staff members received safety training and signed safety contracts confirming their commitment to the program,” she said. “It takes the entire school community working together to ensure the safety of all. The district is extremely focused on school safety, and it will remain the top priority throughout the entire school year.”