The Dallas school district is putting millions of dollars into campus security and reacting quickly to security worries after the May 24 massacre at an elementary school in Uvalde.

A discussion with Dallas ISD officials, two members of the Texas House of Representatives and a social-emotional learning expert, at Rosemont Elementary in Oak Cliff this week, revealed high anxiety among parents, educators and lawmakers around campus safety.

DISD Police Chief John Lawton laid out the district’s security measures for a crowd of about 60 neighbors who attended the discussion, moderated by Univision news anchor Ana María Vargas.

“I can tell you, with our training, the first officer that arrives on the scene will make entry in any situation involving an active shooter,” Lawton said.

DISD police radios communicate with those of the Dallas Police Department and Dallas Fire Rescue, he said.

The district is a member of the Texas School Safety Center and adheres to “I love u guys” response protocol, and every DISD campus is required to have seven drills a year related to fire, severe weather, environmental hazards and active shooters.

The district’s Office of Emergency Management makes sure campuses adhere to the drill schedule and manages security infrastructure such as cameras.

DISD has these things in place for security:

  • Every campus has emergency operations plans, a 65-page document that takes about 30 days to complete, containing “insider information” for each school and specific plans for emergencies that could occur. Those also include “reunification plans” for cases where students are evacuated to another location, where their parents can come get them.
  • External doors at DISD campuses are supposed to operate with card-key or fob locks.
  • A visitor management system is in place for every campus — visitors must show ID, which is run through a database to assure they’re not on the sex-offender registry.
  • The Say Something anonymous reporting system offers an app, website and phone line.
  • Every campus has a threat-assessment team consisting of a counselor, a school nurse, a principal and a police officer, who can evaluate whether students who’ve raised alarm could be a serious threat.
  • Every school has a safety coordinator who receives training for emergencies and makes sure their school is performing appropriate safety protocols.
  • Intruder checks are undercover operations where DISD police sends people into schools to make sure visitors are being challenged at entry. The department is currently conducting those checks for summer schools and camps.

Here are some things the district is working on:

Vestibules — The district intends to build security vestibules at the entry to every campus that doesn’t have one, starting with elementary schools. This is the entry between two locked doors, where visitors can show their ID via camera and communicate with the office via intercom. There are 114 elementary schools that are getting vestibules, Lawton says.

Security operations center — This is kind of like the NBA Replay Center. The district is building a security center that will tie into all the cameras in the district, which can be manned constantly. The center will also have floor plans, as well as that inside information for every campus so they can give direction to DPD or DFR responders.

Parent involvement — The district created parent safety committees at two high schools — Carter and Skyline — that were having problems with violence at the start of this past school year. That did result in a reduction in violence at those schools, said JoAnn Jackson-Powell, director of counseling services for DISD. And more parent safety committees are being encouraged across the district, she said.

Photo of Rosemont Elementary by Danny Fulgencio

Parents who spoke at the meeting said they feel they don’t have enough information about their children in school.

April Hernandez, the incoming PTA president at Rosemont, said her child entered kindergarten after the pandemic. Because of COVID-safety protocols, she’d never been to the child’s classroom and wouldn’t know where in the building they were if something happened.

Raising Oak Cliff president Amanda Reiter said there’s not enough advance communication about drills. She said her child has come home to say there was an active-shooter drill at school that day, leaving her unprepared to talk about it with him.

DISD Chief of School Leadership Tiffany Huitt apologized for that and agreed that the district can communicate better.

Rosemont teacher Amy Tawill said every grade level and every campus is different and that the district would do well to avoid a one-size-fits-all approach to drills.

The district is also expected to launch a gun-safety campaign.

Gun control

Rep. Rafael Anchía, a Democrat whose Texas House district includes part of Oak Cliff, says he proudly has an F rating from the National Rifle Association because he’s proposed tightening gun laws in every session of the Texas Legislature in which he’s served.

“There’s a sickness in our society where people believe that guns make us safer,” he said. “If that were true, we’d be the safest country in the world.”

In August 2019, Patrick Wood Crusius, a 21-year-old from Allen who subscribed to white supremacy’s replacement theory, used a semi-automatic rifle to kill 23 people and injure 23 others at a Walmart in El Paso.

The Texas Legislature in its next session eased the state’s gun laws by approving permitless carry, against the wishes of law-enforcement organizations.

“If that doesn’t sound perverse to you, then we are going to have a disagreement,” Anchía said.

Those who want common-sense gun laws far outnumber those who don’t, he said.

“We are conditioned to believe that nothing is going to change because nothing has changed,” he said. “And so we’re demoralized. We feel that our voice does not matter.”

He encouraged those present to contact politicians anyway.

“I promise you that letters, calls and emails make a difference,” he said.

Rep. Jessica Gonzalez, also a Democrat in the Texas House whose district includes part of Oak Cliff, said she wants Gov. Greg Abbott to call a special session of the Texas Legislature, which won’t meet again otherwise until January, in reaction the Uvalde massacre.

She wants the state to address red-flag laws, raising the age of ownership for certain arms and ammo, and universal background checks.

“There are common-sense changes we can make,” she said. “It’s not like Democrats want to take your guns away. There are Democrats who own guns.”

Mental health

DISD offers mental-health services to its students and their families through Youth and Family Services.

Not enough people know about those services, and parents at the meeting suggested DISD launch a campaign to raise awareness about it.

The district is also reducing paperwork requirements for school counselors beginning this coming school year, so they have more time to focus on the mental health of students, Huitt said.

DISD Trustee Ben Mackey posted video containing most of the June 14 meeting on Instagram. Watch below.