School starts next week. What are Fort Worth campuses doing for security?

Amanda McCoy/amccoy@star-telegram.com
·5 min read

Fort Worth schools are still working to ensure thousands of exterior doors are operational less than a week before students are expected back on campus.

The audit, which was mandated by Gov. Greg Abbott following a deadly school shooting in Uvalde, is just one of dozens of enhancements the district is implementing to tighten security for the new school year.

Doors are still in the process of being checked, officials said at a Tuesday night board meeting, with the entire audit expected to be completed by Sept. 1, the deadline set by the state. The first day of class for Fort Worth ISD is Monday.

But after the initial check occurs, the district is also implementing requirements for campus monitors, and other volunteer staff serving on campus safety emergency response teams to check all doors on a regular basis.

“Those door functionality checks will be done by not only our campus monitors, but also those people who are a part of that campus safety emergency response team,” Cid Meadows, the district’s law enforcement director, said. “All those activities that are going on around our campuses, we want to make sure that they are not missing doors being locked, doors being closed and that those doors are functioning properly.”

“If they’re not, members (of) the campus safety emergency response team will make sure that those work orders are turned in and they will be prioritized.”

Door malfunction could have contributed to Uvalde shooting

Issues with doors at Robb Elementary in Uvalde were highlighted in a July report by a Texas House fact-finding committee as contributing factors that allowed a 18-year-old gunman to enter the campus in May and kill 19 students and two teachers.

The committee found that the school had “reoccurring problems with maintaining its doors and locks,” including a known faulty lock on the door to a classroom where people were shot. Exterior doors were often propped open and interior doors left unlocked. An exterior door used by the gunman was unlocked and a classroom door he entered was likely unlocked, according to the report.

In late July, the school’s, Principal Mandy Gutierrez, pushed back on some of the committee’s findings, including the finding that Wi-Fi kept some school personnel from getting the alerts, according to the Texas Tribune.

She maintained that the door to the classroom entered by the gunman does lock and said she was trained not to use the campus PA system in active shooter situations. Gutierrez had been suspended with pay but was reinstated, according to the Associated Press.

Fort Worth Deputy Superintendent Karen Molinar said the district is training and reminding teachers and students to maintain a culture of awareness about keeping doors closed and locked at all times.

“If someone is walking down the hall, we ask that you shut the door,” she said, “We do have some bad habits where it’s easier to go in and out of different doors that are closer to a parking lot, or it’s a little easier transition for students or for employees, so we’re saying everyone needs to be consistent about if you see a door propped open, please shut that door.”

In addition, the district has policies in place to add additional personnel when maintenance backlogs prevent a faulty door from being repaired immediately

“This is something we discuss with our operations crew when we are dealing with some of our parts that are on back order,” Molinar said. “We have to look at where that door is located to see if we can lock that door and keep it locked and then use a different entry or exit … then in a case when we cannot lock it for good, then we do have to look at how we can place extra personnel there.”

New P.A. system, less portables

The district also touted a new emergency communication system, more stringent I.D. requirements and refined policies going into the new year.

Everyone on campuses will be required to wear a visitors badge or a school I.D., an existing policy that will be enforced with zero tolerance this year, Safety and Security Director Daniel Garcia said.

In addition to checking doors and locks, a “cross-functional team of FWISD security, operations, maintenance, technology and capital improvement staff” checked the status of cameras, fire alarms, intercoms and PA systems

The district is working to move students from portable buildings into physical classrooms, as recommended by the Texas Education Agency, as another safety measure.

Schools looking to cover glass windows

Another security vulnerability the district is looking to address this year is large glass windows on the front of many schools and classrooms, including some that were built in recent years using bond funds.

“In the 2017 bond … we took feedback through a process and really wanted to do some open spaces for our students,” Molinar said. “With that we did incorporate a lot of glass and open areas into our high schools. But now we are concerned about the safety of you can walk through the school and some of the classrooms are exposed.”

As a result, the district is working with vendors to test out “lockdown shades” that can be used to cover the windows in the event of emergencies.

Tobi Jackson, the board president, also said those safety concerns would go into the planning of new schools moving forward, with security staff being part of the planning from the beginning.

“We might not be where we are with the safety curtains, as we call them, had you been in from the beginning on that planning,” she said. “And I know you weren’t, but thank you for sweeping up afterwards.”

This story includes information from the Star-Telegram’s archives.