Lake Travis-Westlake Area School Districts Aiming to Bolster Campus Safety

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As the school year begins Aug. 16-17, local school districts said safety and security continue to be an area of concern for the Lake Travis and Westlake communities.

On May 24, 19 children and two adults were fatally shot at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde. School shootings push safety and security to the forefront of conversations for parents, but ensuring student and staff safety on campuses is a year-round commitment, said Jeremy Trimble, assistant superintendent of operations and planning for Eanes ISD. “It all starts with prevention, but we can’t prevent everything, so a lot of it goes back to response and having the resources there to respond to something out of our control.”

In the wake of Uvalde, Gov. Greg Abbott released a set of mandates to the Texas School Safety Center on June 1 that districts must implement by September. These requirements include conducting a smaller-scale security audit over the summer, training all staff on security procedures and instituting random intruder audits from the Texas School Safety Center on all campuses.

Districts in the Lake Travis and Westlake areas already meet several of the mandate’s requirements, including conducting regular external door audits and training all staff on protocols. Lake Travis Independent School District already does random intruder audits, and Chief of Police Andy Michael said he is confident the district is prepared.

Additionally, districts are considering utilizing potential bond funds to tackle safety and security. LTISD’s upcoming bond will allocate $548.41 million to school district facilities, along with $60.79 million for technology improvements, both of which include measures to increase security. The other two area districts also have plans for bonds that include allocating funds to increasing safety and security on campuses. While EISD and Leander Independent School District have not set timelines for these potential bonds, district officials said they do have plans to pursue them sometime in the future.

“Safety of our students and staff is our top priority,” LISD Risk Management Director Darla Humes said. “As we continue to grow, we will continue to explore, to collaborate with other school districts, and to find new ways to improve safety and security.”

Existing safety measures

All three districts have a number of safety and security measures in place to protect students and staff.

Each of these districts use the Raptor System for visitor check-in, which requires visitors to provide a form of government-approved identification to compare against a sex offender database and alert designated school officials if a match is found.

EISD and LTISD both have mass-emergency alert systems, which send instructions and information in the event of an emergency. While LISD does not have an alert system, one could be in the works pending a future bond, Humes said.

Each district has a tip line, which allows students and parents to report bullying, harassment, safety issues and other information to the district confidentially. LTISD and LISD both have online submission forms, while EISD allows individuals to call 512-499-TIPS to report illegal activity.

LISD’s alternative campus, Leander Extended Opportunity Center, is the only campus in the three districts with a metal detector at its entrance, Humes said. For EISD, metal detectors present a logistical problem: With only one high school, getting about 2,800 students through two metal detectors each morning is unfeasible, Trimble said. EISD has two resource officers stationed at Westlake High School. Resource officers are officers from local law enforcement agencies employed through the district. LISD has eight resource officers for each of its high school campuses.

LTISD has its own police force with six officers and a police chief, which was enacted in the 2021-22 academic year. There are two officers at Lake Travis High School, one at each of its three middle schools and one officer that rotates patrols across elementary campuses, Michael said.

However, there are other measures districts can take to ensure physical security, EISD Superintendent Jeff Arnett said. EISD will install perimeter fencing at several schools this summer and will expand its use of security cameras. LTISD will assign staff at campuses to conduct additional door audits totaling two to three checks per week, Michael said.

Mental health supports

In addition to these “hard” security measures, Arnett said there are a number of “soft” security measures districts support as well, such as mental health management.

For Michael, the key to promoting safety and security on campuses is developing relationships between students and on-campus officers. These relationships allow students to feel comfortable coming forward to share information, which is why it is important to have assigned officers on campuses, he said.

“If you have an assigned officer at a campus, that officer has the ability to build those relationships from day one,” Michael said. “There are a million things you can do for safety and security, but I firmly believe in my heart that building relationships, talking to people and knowing kids is probably the most important thing.”