Central Texas schools review safety after massacre

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Associated Press

Posted on December 25, 2012 at 5:02 PM

LEANDER, Texas (AP) — The Connecticut school massacre that left 20 children dead has officials in some Central Texas school districts considering new measures to make their schools safer, according to a newspaper report Sunday.

Districts in and around Austin are considering whether they need to take action after the shootings in Newtown, Conn., earlier this month, the Austin American-Statesman reported (http://bit.ly/ROGfLa ). The principal of one Austin middle school sent a letter to parents saying she would ask district officials for more surveillance cameras, a buzz-in intercom system at the entrance and more exterior lighting.

Part of the conversation will include how school buildings are designed, said Jimmy Disler, executive director of capital improvements at the Leander Independent School District.

"The community wants it to be inviting and open, but society is still causing us to go the other way," Disler said. "It's a balance between making a prison of everyone on campus, but still maintaining security to keep everyone as safe as we can."

Paul Turner, the executive director of facilities for Austin's school district, said officials were "in the process of taking a look at that, to evaluate what we're doing now and see if there are other things we should do."

Austin-area public schools require people without employee badges to come inside through a main entrance. Many schools have hidden security cameras, and some have metal detectors.

Angela Whitaker-Williams, a senior associate with the Austin office of the architecture firm Perkins + Will, said she had heard from districts that were considering new ways to improve security.

Pricier options include bullet-resistant glazing on windows, shutters that can be closed electronically in an emergency or panic buttons in every classroom. Schools could also reinforce bathroom doors to make them safer in an emergency situation, she said.

But districts are also facing tight budgets and recent cuts to state education funding. Some of those options could cost millions of dollars to implement, she said.

And strengthening windows and doors may ultimately only do so much, she said.

"This sounds pessimistic, but, honestly, if someone wants to get into any building, if they don't shoot down the window, they can drive through a wall," Whitaker-Williams told the newspaper. "The bigger issues are how do we respond? How do we create ways where the building can be configured so it can be more safe? Just like fire drills, there is going to have to be safety and security instruction for kids in any event."

Across the state, districts and politicians are discussing how to respond to the Newtown massacre.

Gov. Rick Perry last week suggested that more districts should let teachers and administrators who hold concealed-handgun licenses to bring their weapons into schools. At least one school district, Harrold, already allows teachers to carry concealed weapons.

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Information from: Austin American-Statesman, http://www.statesman.com

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