Reporter: Ellie Mahan
September 1, 2022
Following the recent tragedy of the school shooting in Uvalde, superintendents across Hill County met with county officials and local law enforcement agencies in June to discuss updated security measures that will be taken during the 2022-2023 school year.
To ensure that the Texas Education Agency school safety requirements were being addressed and that the Whitney Police Department and the Whitney school district were on the same page when it comes to emergency procedures, Whitney ISD’s superintendent met with the interim police chief, the new school resource officer (SRO) and the WISD guardians at the start of the school year.
Interim Whitney Police Chief Hugh Corbin commented, “The Whitney Police Department and Whitney ISD are in very close communication concerning the safety and security of the students at all of the Whitney ISD campuses. It is important that the Whitney school resource officer and the school administration are constantly working to enhance and improve the security of the buildings and doing everything possible to foresee and correct any weakness in the security plans.”
He continued, “Chris Chadwick is the SRO, and he has a long history of law enforcement, both local and federal. He is also an EMT and is an excellent person for the responsibility of this assignment.”
Whitney Superintendent John McCullough said that the meeting at the beginning of the school year was productive and helped the administrator feel confident that the district is taking every precaution possible to prevent problems and to be prepared if one were to occur. “Chief Corbin and Officer Chadwick are going to come to our next guardian training, so they can see what we do and also meet all of our guardians, so they know who they are,” McCullough said. “Overall, it was a very good meeting. Everyone left the meeting feeling more informed and feeling better about the plan.”
The TEA school safety requirements that were released in July called for weekly exterior door sweeps, active threat exercises, required summer safety trainings and a submission of a multi-hazard emergency operations plan, which is due in the fall.
McCullough said that he has emphasized to staff members that all exterior doors and classroom doors must be closed and locked, and doors cannot be propped. Weekly exterior door sweeps are being conducted, and all the doors are numbered.
Kristy Smith, director of technology at WISD, created a QR code for the door sweep process. Each exterior door has a QR code on the outside, and when the person conducting the sweep scans the code, they are directed to a spreadsheet that allows them to note whether or not each door is secure. The spreadsheet is then immediately sent to the superintendent, the assistant superintendent, safety and security leaders and the director of operations and management.
Superintendent McCullough said, “The big emphasis is on not propping doors and just being alert. If you see something, say something. If you see a stranger, ask them what they’re doing and notify the office. Those are probably the biggest takeaways that we’ve had because we’ve already had guardians in place. We already had the window screens that don’t allow you to see into the buildings. We’ve really emphasized safety here the last several years. I think we’ve come out ahead of the curve on that, but there are always areas that you could work on to improve to keep all your students and staff safe.”
One structural change made to a Whitney campus this year, the elementary school added an area that permits visitors to enter a small enclosed entrance space in the school building but prevents them from entering the hallway without clearance from office staff personnel. McCullough said, “Now when parents come in, they can get in the front door, but they cannot get in the hallway without a secretary or somebody buzzing them in or letting them in the building, so we have that extra layer where we can check to see what they need before they can actually get in.” A similar safety feature was already in place at the other three Whitney campuses.
McCullough highlighted the importance of staff training, stating that staff members completed safety training on the first day of inservice. He said, “Every one of our staff members and substitutes had to be trained on our district safety protocols. We’ve had two separate meetings with our substitute teachers. Before they can sub, they have to be made aware of all our district safety procedures.”
Each Whitney campus has guardians in place; guardians are selected individuals in the district who are armed in case an emergency. These guardians must finish an additional 20 hours of training each year, meeting on five separate occasions throughout the year.
Whitney’s safety drills were scheduled and on the school calendar before the start of the school year to reduce potential student anxiety associated with having an unannounced safety drill.
McCullough hopes that teachers building relationships with students helps students trust that they are in a comfortable, safe space. He said, “Our staff has done a great job of making our building welcoming. With the security procedures and protocols that we’ve had in place, I feel like we’ve been doing a good job of making our kids feel safe.”
He stated that having a SRO is positive for the city and the district. He has seen School Resource Officer Chris Chadwick present at every campus. McCullough said, “It’s important to be visible and to have someone there to help students understand that we have law enforcement there to protect them.”
In the past, there was discussion at WISD school board meetings about the district potentially creating its own police force. However, the discussion was put on hold in June due to potential legislative changes that could go into effect in January that would alter school police force requirements. Whether or not Whitney brings a school police force back into discussion in the future will depend on the legislature put in place in January.
Superintendent McCullough said the superintendents of Hill County are planning to meet with Hill County Judge Justin Lewis again in September to discuss their Multi-Hazard Emergency Operations Plans that they are required to submit to the Texas School Safety Center.