Safety is always a top concern in the minds of educators and school administrators. As children prepare to go back to the classroom, parents can find assurance knowing there are numerous support systems created to help schools ensure the safety and security of every student.
Region 4 Education Service Center, established by the Texas Legislature, offers a Safe & Healthy Schools Task Force that provides relevant training, technical assistance and pertinent resources to 48 public school districts and 37 open-enrollment charter schools in Harris, Waller, Fort Bend, Brazoria, Galveston, Chambers and Liberty counties.
Region 4 also facilitates communication between school district superintendents and the Harris County Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management during emergencies and inclement weather. Beginning with the 2019-2020 school year, Region 4 will provide districts on-site safety and security audits for physical security and planning.
Although each district chooses its own emergency notification system, all allow staff members to communicate with parents instantly via email, phone and text messaging. Districts and campuses also post emergency information on district and campus websites, as well as on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
“School districts are committed to providing parents and guardians with information through as many avenues as possible in order to ensure they have access to accurate and timely information,” said Pam Wells, Ed.D., Executive Director, Region 4 Education Service Center.
Region 4 often collaborates with the Texas School Safety Center (TxSSC) at Texas State University to provide classes and workshops that include how to create a comprehensive emergency plan for natural and man-made hazards, as well as training for school-based law enforcement officers to meet statutory requirements and to integrate law enforcement into school district and school operations.
“Texas school districts are complying with statutes by reviewing their emergency operations plans, conducting required safety and security assessments and conducting drills and exercises jointly with law enforcement, fire departments and other local and regional responders,” said Tom Kelley, school safety specialist and TCOLE training coordinator at TxSSC.
Kelley said other actions to enhance security include the installation of secured vestibules in sign-in areas, as well as enhanced access control and visitor management procedures. Schools are also developing, enhancing and implementing behavioral threat assessment teams to address student behavior in order to provide appropriate intervention support.
Schools also take into account dangers that can occur in the home and community, including cyber security threats, human trafficking, teen dating violence, bullying online and in person, and the use of drugs and alcohol. Each district provides information about these important topics to parents, and parent-school partnerships are critical to enhancing the safety of students, said Wells. A partnership between Region IV and Crime Stoppers of Houston also allows parents and students to attend classes free classes or videoconferences about these issues.
“Experts say the best way to prevent and to lessen the effects of any crisis or threat is to be prepared — whether that is making a plan for a flood event or attending sessions about mental health or suicide prevention,” Wells said. “We encourage parents to participate in campus and district parent meetings, to volunteer at their children’s schools, and to communicate with school staff members about any concerns.”
For more information about school safety initiatives in Houston and surrounding areas, visit the Region 4 Educational Service Center at www.esc4.net or the Texas School Safety Center at txssc.txstate.edu. To learn more about Crime Stoppers of Houston, go to www.crime-stoppers.org.