From Columbine to Parkland, school shootings have become far too commonplace in the minds of many Americans and the threat of violence recently hit close to home for local school districts.
Most notably was the threat to Troup High School posted on Snapchat Tuesday, Feb. 27, which caused the district to send students home early. While the posted warning was found to only be a hoax perpetrated by a student, the fear for some parents was certainly real.
The post was traced back to a high school juvenile who confessed and was subsequently arrested, charged with Terroristic Threat and placed in juvenile detention, according to Troup’s Chief of Police, Pat Hendrix.
Lesser known was a threat made within the Arp Independent School District the same evening as the Troup message. Local law enforcement was notified and Chief of Police Craig Robinson and Assistant Chief Johnny Vargas responded.
“We were made aware of what was going on and we had everything taken care of before any students stepped foot on campus,” stated Vargas, indicating the individual responsible had been identified before the start of school Wednesday, Feb. 28.
Superintendent Shannon Arrington reported the message had been traced to a junior high student.
The message was originally brought to the attention of the school district by a parent, according to Arrington, but he would not give details regarding the communication itself.
Neither the Arp PD, nor Arrington would comment on whether the student found responsible had been placed under arrest or what disciplinary action the school had taken. However, Arrington did state that as of Monday, March 5, the student was still not on campus.
Just short of a week prior to the events at Troup and Arp, Whitehouse administrators were made aware of a possible weapon on the high school campus.
“Early Thursday morning, Feb. 22, at Whitehouse High School, rumors circulated about a student having a weapon on campus,” read an online statement by the district. “Administration immediately responded and question[ed] all students involved. Law enforcement performed a search. No weapon was found.”
These incidents, though they apparently posed no real threats, bring the threats and associated fears close to home. While no one and no entity can guarantee absolute safety, local school districts do what they can to provide safe environments for their students.
Troup ISD reports there are numerous security cameras that run 24-hours a day with monitors in a variety of places such as the high school office. The district has a Student Resource Officer who has built relationships with both students and staff.
“She does a really good job for us,” TISD superintended Stuart Bird commented on the SRO. “I get compliments on her on a regular basis.”
The teachers are trained in a Run-Hide-Fight protocol in case of an active-shooter event.
“The data showed that we had more fatalities and we’ve had more people shot when they lock down and they were just a sitting duck in places,” stated Bird. “They now tell us to run-hide-fight.”
Run-Hide-Fight is simply getting students out of and away from the building if possible, hiding if the shooting is close-by and escape isn’t possible without crossing the shooter’s path, and finally fighting if a shooter enters the room.
“Once you have an experience in a situation like that, I think it makes you better should there be another time,” Bird said about the message that wasn’t a serious threat. “It makes you think about things that maybe you hadn’t thought about. Thank goodness it wasn’t any other kind of experience, but I think our experiences make us better at what we do.”
Some considerations the district may be giving thought to include better communication with parents concerning threat levels, a full-time SRO for the elementary campus, ways of greater restricting access to buildings, and the possibility of implementing a school marshal plan, according to Bird.
“Since 2013, Texas law has permitted school districts to appoint one or more specially trained and licensed employees as school marshals,” according to the Texas Association of School Boards.
Arp and Whitehouse ISDs also have security cameras, an SRO, limited entry and entry protocols for campus visitors as reported by Arrington and a written statement from WISD.
“We do have a guardian policy, where we have selected folks that can carry, that has been in place going on three years,” Arrington stated.
Additionally, both AISD and WISD have plans in place to deal with a variety of emergencies, including threats to campus.
“We want to assure our families that WISD has an updated emergency operations plan that has been created and is regularly reviewed in collaboration with local law enforcement,” reads the statement from WISD. “The members of our staff have been trained on the specifics of this plan and we conduct periodic drills to ensure that everyone knows their role during a crisis. Our district’s campuses have specific protocols for entry. WISD will continue to evaluate the Emergency Operations Plan and make adjustments in our plan to continue the outstanding education provided to all students in the district. The safety of our students and staff remain our highest priority.”