LAS CRUCES – How does the public school system keep children safe in school?
Parents are asking this question more and more due to an increase in school shootings this century and an increase in threats against schoolchildren via social media this year alone.
As the country is on edge, the pressure falls on school security teams.
Here’s a look at how the Las Cruces Public School Safety Team is adapting to the changing school safety landscape.
Increased safety in schools
The LCPS security team employs around 73 staff, according to LCPS public safety director Todd Gregory, a big increase from previous years.
About four years ago, LCPS approved funding to hire a campus security guard for each elementary school. About two years ago, the district switched to two full-time security guards at each college, which previously had one full-time and one part-time. These additions totaled approximately 30 new campus custodians.
“In the past, who would have thought of safety even being in an elementary school? said Richard Parra, a security guard at Jornada Elementary School. “With the evolution of society, unfortunately we have to provide basic security just to keep students and staff safe. “
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In addition to a campus security guard at each elementary school, two at each college, and four or five at each high school, other security measures are in place at LCPS.
About 10 school resource officers – police officers from Las Cruces stationed in the district – also monitor the district and move between schools as needed.
Threats in 2021
On several occasions this semester, the district has had to respond to threats from social media site TikTok. Among these, three made the local news:
- October 25: The city increases police presence at Centennial High School in response to a series of videos threatening an active shooter situation at the school. The same video had been reposted and shared across the country, as the name of the school changed.
- December 7: The district deals with a shared video that includes a paragraph of text alleging shootings and bombings at an undefined school location and titled “Confession.” Law enforcement said these were old threats recirculated with new named schools. At least four LCPS schools are involved: Las Cruces High, Sierra Middle, Camino Real Middle and Organ Mountain High.
- December 17: School districts across the country, including LCPS, issue warnings and step up security in response to anonymous and vague shooting and bomb threats that officials say are not considered credible .
In each case, school and law enforcement officials found the social media threats to be unreliable, but some parents nonetheless prevented their children from coming home from school when they saw the threats.
The district wrote a letter to parents on December 16, the day before the most recent threat, noting, “While we do not believe the threat is credible, we are monitoring the situation closely and taking it seriously.”
Further, the district said, “This is a good illustration of why it is important to avoid sharing messages online that refer to threats to school safety. While these are not credible threats, they can cause a lot of stress and anxiety for our students, families and staff. We ask our families to monitor their children’s social media activity and talk to them about appropriate behavior online.
Nonetheless, Gregory encourages parents, students, and community members to send any potential threats they see to the district.
“People are just a little more hyper-vigilant and paying more attention to it on social media,” said Gregory. “That’s what we want, though. We want people to give us that information. Because, I mean, that’s the only way we can respond. Someone has to give us the information and we have to. let it be known. “
For every threat the district is aware of, said Gregory, security consults with law enforcement to help verify their validity.
“We help each other to try to get to the bottom of it,” said Gregory. “Much of this (social media threats) can be shared quickly, and it can be misunderstood that it’s a local thing when it actually comes from another city or state. “
Gregory said that while there has been a slight increase in threats to the district this year, the security team has seen these types of threats steadily over the past two years.
He noted that it is difficult to say whether the influx of threats has been abnormal compared to past years. However, when a school shooting occurs in other parts of the country, an increase in threats often follows, according to Gregory.
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The tragic school shooting that claimed the lives of four Michigan students sparked numerous imitation threats against other schools in early December.
Active shooting exercises
In 2019, New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signed a law requiring schools to conduct an active marksmanship exercise during the first four weeks of the school year.
Ricardo Salayandia worked for the New Mexico Corrections before becoming a Security Officer at Highland Elementary in 2018.
He said active marksmanship training is needed to help prepare children, even at elementary age. Salayandia, who has three school-aged grandchildren at LCPS, said more training would benefit the students.
“It was unheard of when I was in school, now we are more worried,” Salayandia said of the school shootings.
The training itself has changed in recent years. A new system called ALICE aims to educate staff and students.
The acronym stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, and Evacuate.
Gregory explained that this is a transition from “hoping for the best” in a standard lockdown to a “proactive” approach.
“(They are taught) how they can barricade themselves and take countermeasures to prevent more injuries on campus,” Gregory said. “It’s been a big change in the last few years, it’s really this mentality of running, hiding, fighting.
“It’s not just a school district issue anymore, it’s a community issue and we really insist to our staff and students that this is really life skills training. . “
Over the years, schools have increasingly used strategies to monitor student behavioral health and teach socio-emotional learning in classrooms. The security teams have also been trained on these aspects.
“There has been a big push for more verbal de-escalation skills,” said Gregory. “We are really trying to listen, to verbally engage the students who may be having a behavioral problem on campus.”
Parra said parental involvement is also a key part of keeping schools safe.
More security measures
Security cameras are placed around schools and fences are installed in many schools. With the $ 80 million school bond that was issued in November, the district has set aside funds to put up fences at several schools, including Cesar Chavez Elementary, Doña Ana Elementary, Hermosa Heights Elementary, Hillrise Elementary, Sunrise Elementary. , University Hills Elementary, and Valley View Elementary.
Highland Elementary is also having construction work done on its front office. Salayandia said he was not sure what the construction involved, but knew it was meant to provide more security.
He described the original front office as “too open” and difficult to secure.
In 2019, Jornada Primary School redesigned the entrance to the school reception, with the aim of limiting access to classrooms.
“(It) makes it a little easier, so that we maintain more control over who is entering and exiting our building,” Parra said of the redesign. “So that keeps the kids safer. “
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In the end, all these precautions come down to financing: salaries of security guards, construction projects, installation of cameras.
Gregory said LCPS has been fortunate to fund many projects in recent years, but he encourages the community to support the district by voting on bonds to continue providing school safety updates.
Miranda Cyr, a member of the Report for America Corps, can be contacted at [email protected] or @mirandabcyr on Twitter. Show your support for the Report for America program at https://bit.ly/LCSNRFA.