While much of the conversation after last month’s Parkland, Fla., shooting has been about how to improve safety at public schools, several private schools also are reviewing their own procedures.
“What we’ve done is review our emergency plan and made sure our students and staff understand it,” said Laura Noonan, principal at St. Mary’s Catholic School in League City. “We’ve also done active shooter training.”
After Nikolas Cruz, 19, shot and killed 17 students and teachers on Valentine’s Day at his former school — Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School — parents, politicians and community members across the nation have weighed in on how to prevent mass shootings.
Private schools are working through many of the same procedures public school districts are, but life at a smaller institution has some inherent differences, officials said.
“The statistics going back to Columbine show that it’s usually not really an outside shooter or bad guy,” said Mark Ravelli, the head of school at Trinity Episcopal School in Galveston. “It’s someone inside, who knows the community — whether it’s someone with marital problems, or who was let go or a student who wasn’t treated properly.”
Keeping tabs on large public school district populations can be a tough task, Ravelli said.
“We have a handle because of the smallness,” Ravelli said. “Every person knows every person. And that does help. It allows us to keep a good radar.”
Trinity Episcopal officials have created weekly student groups that meet to discuss issues and concerns and go over safety procedures, Ravelli said.
But the school also has started locking individual classrooms while in session, Ravelli said.
“It’s good — the kids aren’t wandering,” Ravelli said. “Everyone knows where everyone is. There are locks for a reason. This just makes things one step easier.”
As a matter of policy, private schools in Texas seem divided about what changes should be made to make students safer.
“Private schools need every possible tool in the toolbox to make sure that each individual campus is safe so that students can come to school ready to learn and not fearful of potential violence,” said Laura Colangelo, the executive director of the Texas Private Schools Association, in praise of a recent piece of legislation.
House Bill 867, which was passed in the 85th Texas Legislative Session, allows charter schools and private schools to have one person per 200 students carry a handgun after training.
That person can’t carry a gun if they have regular contact with students, records show.
While the private school association praised the decision, representatives with the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston and county Catholic schools said they wouldn’t be arming teachers.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Noonan said.
The Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston has a policy banning guns from schools, said JoAnn Zuniga, a spokeswoman for the group.
“Part of being prepared is being proactive,” Noonan said. “We practice drills with students and remind them about safety. We want them to be aware of their surroundings. The most important thing is to know who is coming in and out of school and make sure people are aware of what security measures are in place and how to use them.”