Texas School District Institutes Random Searches, Clear Backpacks

A secondary school student walks carrying his new transparent backpack in Guadalajara, Mexico on October 25, 2012. The transparent backpacks are part of the program 'Escuela Segura' (Safe School ) to avoid violence in schools and in the coming days the State Government will deliver 10,000 more of these hoping …
HECTOR GUERRERO/AFP/Getty Images

Random backpack searches, canine patrols, new security gates, additional police, student ID badges, and the use of clear book bags mark some of the many changes one Texas school district intends to roll out as part of a larger five year campus security plan.

This week, the Ennis Independent School District announced major safety changes. On Monday, school officials began random backpack searches of junior and senior high school students. Also, staff and visitors must park in designated lots away from school buildings and curbs.

In a letter to Ennis ISD families, Superintendent John Chapman outlined the immediate and future changes to existing procedures. He wrote: “Please know that we are doing this in the best interest of all students.” Chapman asked parents to have their children comply with the random backpack searches. He requested similar compliance over parking issues.

Even bigger security changes are in the works for the 2018-19 school year in response to the Parkland, Florida, school shooting and ongoing campus threats. “Unfortunately, heightened security is not a convenience. Look at our airports and large events we attend. Security takes time and we ask for your patience,” stated Chapman.

Starting in the next school year, students in pre-kindergarten through grade 12 may only carry clear backpacks so that all items are visible. Chapman recommended families invest in stronger PVC clear bags instead of plastic. He said they can be purchased for as “cheap as $17.00.” The school district will also be handing out some for free. Junior and senior high school students must wear school issued student ID around their necks on a lanyard. Chapman noted that if students lose them, they must pay for replacement badges.

Ennis ISD enrolls less than 5,800 students across 10 campuses of which there are two early childhood education centers, four elementary campuses, two intermediate schools, and one junior high and one high school. The school district is located around 40 miles south of Dallas.

Over the summer, the school district will install as many as seven new security gates on their secondary campuses. They intend to add more officers to their existing onsite police department. Chapman indicated the school district has “hundreds of security cameras.” Still, he commented, “We plan to add even more every year for the next five years.” The superintendent also promised, “Our canine units will be visiting the campuses more frequently than ever before.”

Part of the new policy going into effect in the 2018-19 school year requires “all classroom doors will remain locked.” Chapman reassured families that procedures “are in place as students need to exit the room and reenter.”

Chapman indicated that Ennis ISD will incorporate the Standard Response Protocol (SRP) into its current safety measures. He believes this will streamline “initial” emergency procedures for teachers and students. SRP employs a “lockout, lockdown, evacuate, and shelter” approach to campus threats. Each command is supported by an action to ensure student and staff safety.

Since 2009, the nonprofit “I Love U Guys” Foundation says it has offered campus safety response programs at no charge to school districts and other organizations in the United States. A state-by-state map of their SRP districts displays participating Texas public and charter schools. John-Michael Keyes founded the “I Love U Guys” Foundation after losing his 16-year-old daughter, Emily, in the 2006 Platte Canyon High School shooting that happened in Bailey, Colorado. The last text message Emily ever sent to her parents read: “I love u guys.”

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