Westlake evaluates campus safety practices

Safety at schools all around the U.S. is being questioned in response to the tragedy that occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut in December. This tragedy, along with numerous shootings in Texas over the past few years, ranging from the University of Texas scare in 2010 to the Lone Star College shooting in Houston in January 2013, has raised questions about whether the Eanes Independent School District’s policies regarding student safety should be updated.

“We actually have not adopted any new safety policies for EISD in response to the tragedy in Connecticut,” Director of Safety and Risk Management Laura Santos-Farry said. “Rather, we continuously work on strengthening our safety procedures at the district level and on every campus.”

Westlake currently has a Safety Committee whose members hope that through their efforts, they can provide a safer, anxiety-free learning environment.

“We, [the Safety Committee], have been meeting to try and establish goals and action plans for how to assess what we’re currently doing, and to see if we have needs for making recommendations to our campus leadership team and our administration about ways to improve the safety of everyone in this school,” Latin teacher Natalie Cannon said. “That also includes things like stress, Epicosity and traffic concerns.”

According to French teacher Libby Lucera, the forms of protection around the school have changed since she first started working on this campus. The older fashions of safety made the school’s environment different than it is today.

“I’ve been at WHS since 1979 and I’ve always felt safe,” Lucera said. “[In the ’80s], we had security volunteers who were older retired people who constantly walked the halls and the grounds. They were extremely visible, and if they saw any students out in the hall without a pass, they took them to the office. It really did tighten things up because you didn’t dare send your students out in the hall without a pass, so there were a lot less students just wandering around.”

All around campus, there are multiple trained employees who help protect Westlake. One of these personnel is Oscar James, who works with security in the Chap Court. He has an in-depth knowledge of the measures that WHS has taken to keep the school safe.

“We have one deputy, sometimes two, a large number of cameras, numbers of two-way radios, procedures and drills to address emergencies, locked entrances that are monitored, monitoring of exterior property, scanners for drivers licenses and badges for visitors,” James said.

The National Rifle Association has proposed equipping schools with armed guards or even equipping teachers with guns. Westlake’s deputies carry handguns and TASERs. However, the views among staff members vary on the subject.

“I do not agree with [teachers being armed],” career counselor Jeff Pilchiek said. “I don’t feel like teachers went to school to be the protectors. I think the teachers went to school to be the caregivers, and we all have different opinions, but I believe we will never be trained in a way that can be effective.”

Lucera agrees with not arming faculty.

“I think it’s a good idea for the sheriffs who work on campus to be armed,” Lucera said. “I would not want to be armed though, because … I don’t like weapons.”

Although the district does its best to keep everyone safe and secure, there is always room for improvement. English teacher Jon Watson said he believes that a remedy to this issue is to further restrict access to the inside of the school by having fewer entry points and introducing student ID cards which allow access to locked doors.

“I do think that since crazy things could happen, it would be worth it to make it a little harder for people to get into the school,” Watson said.

Students also have opinions on whether teachers and staff should have a form of protection on them or in their rooms at all times.

“I can’t say I’d be OK with [a gun or TASER] being in a classroom,” senior Ashlyn Henry said.

One student said she feels that arming classrooms could present more problems than it solves.

“I feel that by giving teachers a gun, different dangers arise like a student getting a hold of it or a teacher snapping,” senior Anika Hattangadi said. “It makes weapons more accessible in a place that should be weapon-free.”

Cannon said she feels comfortable with her knowledge of firearms, but doesn’t think that everyone would support putting firearms and other weaponry into the hands of staff.

“I feel like that would require a massive amount of training,” Cannon said. “I’m comfortable handling a firearm. I’ve been hunting before – I’m trained; but I don’t feel that everyone on campus is or would like to be.”

Arming staff members also might cause psychological repercussions. Having a firearm in the classroom could make teachers feel threatened and compelled to fall back on it.

“I think that puts teachers in a potentially very awkward situation,” Cannon said. “For example: if your door opens anytime when you’re not expecting it to, are you supposed to have your weapon drawn?”

Even if the form of defense was less extreme than a gun, problems could still arise.

“I would probably feel a little bit better [having a TASER], but then again, it’s the same kind of question: are we supposed to have it out, charged and ready to spring onto someone?” Cannon said.

If this idea of improving safety around schools were to go into action, guidelines would have to be set in place to make the school as safe as possible.

“I’d want to make sure we’re very clear and have explicit training on when and how to use [a weapon] and how to keep it safe in the classroom,” Cannon said.