MINEOLA — Parents, staff, and community members showed up in force at the Mineola ISD town hall meeting regarding school safety Tuesday evening.
Over the last year, a group of Mineola Board of Trustee members, administrators, and local law enforcement have been working to come up with and implement different security measures.
Those measures would make the campuses safer and to keep the students safe if an active shooter situation were to ever occur.
"It started with an internal, not really an audit but a walk-through of our buildings just to see what we needed, what we had, where we could improve," the board president, Dr. John Abbott said.
They noticed some things that needed to be fixed.
"One of the things we noticed, we found out was in order to lock the door, to lock a classroom door, teacher had to go out in the hall and lock it from the hallway, so changing the locks on the doors and making it where they can lock it from the inside," Abbott said.
Administrators also noticed that anyone could just drive around to the back of the high school.
"It is now gated off, that's staff parking," Kim Tunnell, the superintendent of the district said.
They also reconfigured the entryways to the schools. Now, people can't just walk into the hallway, they enter into the main office and have to be buzzed into the hallways.
The nurses station is still in the process of being moved to a safer and more secure location. It should be completed by the time school starts in the Fall.
"The elementary and the high school shared a nurses station," Abbott said. "We moved that to the elementary school and put it behind the doors and everything where they actually had to be buzzed in to go to the nurses office."
This is all in an effort to not only prevent a school shooting, but help out in the case of one ever occurring.
"When you look at the statistics, the majority of the threats are inside the school versus outside the school," Tunnell said.
The panel also did something to the area surrounding the schools: They thinned out the trees.
"Clearing out all of the undergrowth and cutting down some of the trees, actually seeing... where we can look out there and see safety precautions," Abbott said in regard to increasing the visibility around the schools. "I mean you can look out from this window and actually see the high school from here, we didn't have that before."
Mineola ISD has had to rely on the Mineola Police Department in the past if they had an issue, but things are changing on campus.
"At the last board meeting we talked about, and actually voted for our own police department, our own police officer," Abbott said.
The district is looking to hire and fill that position.
The next step is the main reason they want the public's opinion at the town hall meeting.
"Now we're talking about and considering arming our staff," he said. "Having so many per campus, so many for the district, them going through training where if there is an active shooter on the campus they would actually be armed and trained in how to deal with that shooter."
The board members and local law enforcement faced a tough crowd on Tuesday night.
Many parents, some grandparents, and other members of the community had something to say.
"So I want to know how you prevent them from coming in, not after the fact."
"The number of teachers that are carrying a gun will that be based on per capita in each campus or will it just be if you can pass the criteria well you can carry?"
"You need to secure the doors to the school."
All of the above were things the board is trying to address.
Securing the doors is something the board has already looked into.
"Retrofitting every door to have swipes so that staff members could have a badge that they swipe to get in our rough estimate would be it would be $350,000 to do the 95 exterior doors that we have at Mineola ISD," the superintendent said, but that doesn't mean it won't be done. "You've got to weigh all those things, what is the best thing and the most efficient use of our funds to protect our students and our staff."
That is why the public's comments are so important. It will help them decide what the final pieces to the plan will be, whether it's arming teachers, or something else.
Tunnell says although she would prefer hiring armed peace officers, the district may not be able to afford it.
She said arming teachers may be the next best option.
“I'm for protecting the students, I think done in the right manner with extensive training it can be beneficial,” said Tunnell.
But arming teachers has some concerned.
One local parent and attorney Carlo D’Angelo says that by voting in favor of teachers carrying guns, board members are exposing themselves to the risk of having a lawsuit filed against them.
“Under the 1983 civil rights law, a school board can be sued both as an entity, as a municipality, as a government entity and the individual members of that board could be sued if that policy is found to have created a dangerous situation,” said D’Angelo.
One grandfather, a former law enforcement officer, stood up against arming teachers.
"Carrying a handgun is an awesome responsibility, I know because I've done it," he said, "and if you've never shot anybody, I can tell you personally it's something you won't never get over."
A substitute teacher for the district appreciated teachers being armed but worried about receiving training on what to do as a substitute.
"I would like to see some type of class or something where we are prepared," she said.
For most at the meeting, prevention was the number one thing on their minds. How to prevent a shooter from even getting into the building.
Along with that, others brought up how a lot of times, it is internal.
"But the point is how do we prevent them from entering? You tell me that most of the shooters are from children within the school, and I have to agree with that because we live in the age of bullying," a grandmother said.
It's something the district has already started addressing,"In the areas of violence prevention, the school board, in the spring, authorized hiring an additional counselor so now every one of our campuses has a counselor," Tunnell said. "This year we are expanding our student leadership, as well as looking at character education, and we're forming a social and emotional district wide committee."
As mentioned before, the public's opinion will be taken into account in the districts final plans. The district also emphasized the massive amounts of training teachers would go through if they were to carry. There would be monthly training sessions, and teachers would have to pass psychological tests to carry, not just what is required for a license or a concealed handgun license.