The Sutherland Springs church shooting was a stark reminder that threats can happen anywhere, but San Antonio school officials say they have layers of protections in place already, starting with regular lockdown drills for students and teachers.
In a closet inside her office, Judson Independent School District Police Chief Teresa Ramon has a mini armory with helmets and bulletproof vests.
If a shooter threatens one of her schools, she’s ready to gear up and secure the perimeter.
Students and staff will hide behind locked doors, and her officers will follow their training to disarm the shooter.
“We want to make sure that we provide that safe and secure environment so parents and community members know that their child is safe when they come to school,” Ramon said, “that they don’t have to worry and say, ‘What’s going to happen today?’ ”
Ramon is president of the Texas School District Police Chief Association. She said schools across the state have similar plans in place. Most have received training from the Texas School Safety Center at Texas State University.
Past school shootings spurred district leaders to action years ago.
“In 2008 we had a close call here on one of our campuses, and that was a big eye opener for us,” said Michael Ramirez, the police chief at Harlandale ISD.
Michael Ramirez is the police chief at Harlandale ISD. Like many area schools, Harlandale has automatic locks, secure entryways, visitor screenings and video cameras.
Ramirez said he and his officers are constantly training and revising their plans.
“Every shooting situation is going to be different but at our campuses we already know the layout of our campuses and what we need to do,” Ramirez said.
Kelley Fryar, a lieutenant with the Northside ISD, said his department is also always thinking about new ways to keep its students safe.
“Columbine changed everything for schools,” Fryar said. “We’re blessed and we’re honored to be safeguarding the most precious thing that belongs to the world, and that’s our kids, so we take that very seriously, so we’re doing this every day.”
Ramirez and Fryar said they’re not changing their school safety plans in response to the Sutherland Springs shooting, or the recent school shooting in California. They’re already doing all they can.
However, Ramon said she would welcome more equipment.
“Because we’re a specialized agency we’re not walking around with AR-15s and Tasers and all this heavy machinery, armor, machines,” Ramon said. “The suspect is usually armor protected, several automatic weapons usually in their possession, and so when we’re walking around with some pepper spray, (a baton) and one handgun on our hip it’s a little difficult.”
For Alamo Heights Assistant Superintendent Frank Alfaro, the tragedy at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs underscored the importance of the last phase of his district’s plan: make sure there are counselors on hand.
“When you have so many involved that affects multiple communities, we’re thinking about them all,” Alfaro said.