Texas school district plans $55M school security upgrade

Cypress-Fairbanks ISD to install panic buttons on campuses, replace windows with bullet-resistant glass


June 16--Cypress-Fairbanks ISD will spend $55 million to tighten school security, including installing strategically placed panic buttons on campuses and replacing existing entry windows with bullet-resistant glass -- upgrades experts call a necessary but unfortunate sign of the times.

Voters overwhelmingly approved the improvement, which will be completed districtwide by 2020, in a $1.2 billion bond election in May.

"We know that students are No. 1 and our staff is No 1. We've got to protect them," said Roy Sprague, associate superintendent for facilities. "How do you put a price tag on someone's life?"

Cy-Fair plans to add security vestibules to the front office area of 50 schools to keep unapproved visitors from gaining access, upgrade security cameras and install lockdown buttons and stand-alone emergency phones at all schools -- widely considered the best practices in school safety. They're also moving forward with one of the latest trends since 20 children and 6 adults were shot at Sandy Hook Elementary in December 2012 -- installing bullet-resistant glass at the front of schools.

This will make Cy-Fair, Texas' third largest school system, one of the only districts in the region with bullet-resistant glass, although others are considering a more budget-friendly alternative of laminating existing windows with a coating to slow intruders.

Klein and Katy are in the process of studying which safety features to include in 2015 bond proposals. The Houston ISD earmarked $17 million in its 2012 bond for safety and security upgrades, including money to create security vestibules at main entries, upgrade security cameras and install two-way communication devices from main offices to classrooms.

Bullet-resistant glass wasn't discussed or priced, HISD officials said.

At least one Houston ISD school has taken matters into its own hands. The PTO at Bush Elementary School recently agreed to spend about $12,000 for bullet-resistant laminate at the west Houston campus. Parents agreed office vestibules and security cameras aren't enough, said Rhedonda Cox, fundraising chair for the Bush PTO.

"We need to be proactive," the Houston mother said. "It really is sad when it has to come to that, but that is the state of the world these days."

The PTO will move forward with the project later this year, once it gets final word that HISD doesn't plan to do anything similar with bond money and that the purchase won't interfere with other construction. The laminate product they're planning to purchase is manufactured at Rice University.

"Laminate sales have just skyrocketed," said Mike Dorn, executive director of Safe Havens International, a nonprofit that advises school officials on safety. "We had some prior to Sandy Hook doing this, but it's much more predominant since."

Experts said both bullet-resistant glass and laminates help protect schools in the case of break-ins, hurricanes, explosions and fires.

Those types of disasters are more likely than a school shooting, said John Wilson, senior consultant for the Harris County Department of Education's Center for Safe and Secure Schools. Being prepared for ever emergency scenarios is difficult, he said.

"It's a huge challenge and it's one that tries your imagination and tries your patience," he said.

While the recent focus on school safety has led to a proliferation of vendors and products -- meaning better, cheaper choices for schools -- experts agree that schools can't just throw technology at their problems.

"The failures and gaps we see in school security incidents tend to be people failures, not equipment failures," said Kenneth Trump, president of National School Safety and Security Services. "Since the Sandy Hook shootings, schools and elected officials have very narrowly focused on active-shooter drills and throwing limited money on physical security measures such as more cameras, fortifying their main entrances and even window film for shatterproof glass. Meanwhile, counseling and student support services continue to be cut, training for school staff is often nonexistent and school crisis teams exist on paper but are not meeting and not updating their security and emergency preparedness plans."

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