On Valentine’s Day, a day usually reserved for the emotion of love, the school day was occurring normally at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., with students attending classes as the end of the school day approached.
Then, chaos suddenly came on the scene, as 19-year-old Nikolas Jacob Cruz entered the scene with an AR-15 style semi-automatic rifle and began shooting.
The result of Cruz’s attack on the student body of Stoneman Douglas left a total of 17 people dead, including teachers, students, and staff members, with another 14 people suffering non-fatal injuries.
Now, with the most recent mass shooting on a school campus in retrospect, officials at Bullard Independent School District are working to address security concerns, while assuring the safety of students, teachers, and staff members during the school day.
Bullard Banner News recently conducted an exclusive interview with Bullard ISD Superintendent Todd Schneider, Director of Operations and Technology Lee Sleeper, and Public Communications Specialist Laura Jones, asking questions regarding safety measures already in place, as well as issues to be addressed in wake of the shooting in Florida.
“The security of our students and employees is the number one thing we have to provide to our community,” said Schneider. “We have a committee in place that’s in the process of developing a local accountability plan, and they’ve agreed that safety is the number one thing we need to ensure our students and employees have. It’s the same for parents at the house, in that they want to make sure their children are safe.”
Bullard ISD has made changes in terms of safety and security on all district campuses over the recent years, particularly at the time the district has added new campuses.
When construction on the current Bullard Elementary School campus was completed in 2008, the campus came equipped with a video-monitoring doorbell system, allowing a receptionist inside to see the individual attempting to enter the campus and either allow or deny them access
The doorbell systems then were equipped to the front door entrances of all other Bullard ISD campuses during the planning and budgeting of the district’s 2015 bond construction project, when Bullard Primary School was constructed.
“The elementary school had [the system] as an original install, but since none of the other campuses had them, it was never implemented,” said Sleeper. “When we built the primary school, part of the package was installing the entry points at all campuses and upgrading the elementary school’s system to a new level. We have had a very positive response from parents because these systems have given us an additional level to monitor who is coming into our schools.”
After entering a Bullard ISD campus, visitors are required to hand their driver licenses to the school’s receptionist, who then scans the license through a scanner from Raptor Technologies. The information contained on the scanned license is compared to a national sex offender database.
If an instance arises that a scan finds an anomaly, Schneider said the district has plans in place on each campus to handle the situation.
When asked specifically about the plans regarding an active shooter scenario at a Bullard ISD campus, Schneider addressed the topic by saying that plans and procedures are in place, but differ on each campus.
“Specifically, every campus at Bullard ISD has a different plan in response to different scenarios, in terms of what they do and where they go,” said Schneider. “There are things that each campus has to address themselves. District wise, we do have an emergency operations plan in place. There were also other shootings at schools this year, but they were not mass shootings, instead, they were instances with specific people as the target. Our plans will continually evolve; every time something happens across America, the plans are going to change.”
Sleeper expressed the idea of changing the culture around school and gun violence, a topic that may not always be addressed around the district, the community, and homes.
“We need to instill a culture of ‘be aware and prepare’ and get away from this feeling that we can’t talk about it because it’s too bad of a topic to discuss,” said Sleeper. “It’s in our society, so we need to be aware of it. Especially after this last shooting, our campus administrators are working on instilling that knowledge into our students.”
In March 2017, Bullard ISD took a major step in terms of safety and security by establishing the Bullard ISD Police Department, headed by Chief Roy Logan, replacing the previous form of protection which included a school resource officer from Bullard Police Department.
According to Sleeper, the addition of Logan to the Bullard ISD staff has been a welcomed addition by students, teachers, and district officials over the course of the past year.
“Having a law enforcement officer is a psychological deterrent for those thinking of doing harm,” said Sleeper. “Chief Logan is a presence throughout the entire district and has been a great resource for school administrators. He is taking our existing emergency operations plans and modifying it. He is definitely a very positive influence on the district.”
According to Schneider, there is a plan to hire additional officers for the Bullard ISD Police Department in the future, but the plans are dependent on the district’s financial situation, government expectations, and government provisions, while citing the fact that public schools were cut in funding by the State of Texas nearly $2.8 billion last year.
In response to the shooting in Florida, in which the gunman gained access to the school through an unlocked exterior door, Sleeper said that the district is currently working to have a watchful eye on the outside doors of Bullard ISD campuses.
“The shooter in Florida was able to get inside of the school through an exterior doorway,” said Sleeper. “It was not monitored, nor was it secured. We’re trying to create secure entries at all campuses, but especially on our secondary campuses. An example would be at the high school, where students are constantly going in and out of exterior doors to go to the field house, agriculture barns, or other areas. We’re working on ways to better monitor those doors in hopes of preventing an instance like what happened in Florida.”
To address safety and security issues throughout the district, Schneider said Bullard ISD is preparing for an independent look at the school’s level of protectiveness.
“One of the steps we are taking right now is that we’re going to have a safety audit of the district,” said Schneider. “We’re contracting with a former employee of Texas School Safety Center that has done this for a living. He and his team will do a complete evaluation and tell us where we are vulnerable, what we need to do quickly, and what kind of plans we can put in place.”
Schneider also said that with additional security and safety measures comes a higher cost, taken out of the district’s fiscal year budget and usually not replaced by state funds.
“There are costs involved in providing security,” said Schneider. “We analyze to see what money can be spent, what it can be spent on, and what money the state is going to provide to help us. One of the best quotes I’ve seen recently is that when the September 11 attacks happened, you can’t even take a water bottle with you to the airport, but since shootings like at Columbine and like the one in Florida have happened, and nothing’s really changed because people don’t want to put money into it. With all the other expectations, there’s not money to put school resource officers at every entrance and exit of the district all day long.”
In response to the idea of arming teachers at Bullard ISD, Schneider said the Bullard ISD Board of Trustees must make the decision.
“Arming teachers and even having a school marshal program like Wylie ISD has right now is a decision that will have to be made by the school board,” said Schneider. “Whether we do that or not, that is really a perception of safety because you don’t know how that teacher or staff member is going to react in that particular instance; they can train all they want, but until they’ve actually killed a person or held a gun at someone, you don’t know how they’re going to react. I’m not saying it’s not an adequate measure to consider, but it’s just a perception of safety; it doesn’t guarantee safety.”
Schneider said the Bullard ISD Board of Trustees has not met since the recent school shooting in Florida occurred, but believed the district would at some point welcome input from the community, but also stated that student safety is an issue discussed in closed session by law, not in an open forum setting.
“The specific strategies set in place by the school district is not for the general public to know because if someone knows the plan, they can still do harm,” said Schneider.
With all the measures of security and safety plans within Bullard ISD, Schneider said the level of safety is adequate for the district current condition, but could be improved upon in the future.
“The state of security at Bullard ISD is good, but it could be always be better,” said Schneider. “Since I’ve arrived here at Bullard, the school board has addressed several areas regarding safety and security, but we can always do more. Safety is a culture, and you want to get ahead and act in the way of habits, instead of fear. Right now, the country is acting through fear, and that takes a little while to get over. We still look at the district with a microscope to see where we can improve on our safety culture, as well as our facilities. However, I believe overall that Bullard ISD is a safe school district, just like many districts are across this country.”