SANTA FE

A month and a day after 10 people were killed inside Santa Fe High School, the school district on Tuesday held its first meeting to discuss how it might change security measures to protect students from harm in the future.

The meeting included parents, teachers, law enforcement officials and school administrators, who brainstormed about what things the district might be able to implement before the start of school next fall.

But the discussions were not witnessed by the public, after the school district announced hours before the meeting the committee would be meeting behind closed doors in the name of safety.

“The committee meetings will be open for committee members only due to the sensitive nature of the confidential strategies for student and staff safety that will be discussed,” Santa Fe ISD spokeswoman Patti Hanssard said in an email. “The very nature of improving safety and security measures ensures there are plans in place that cannot be known to the public in their entirety, because the knowledge of certain aspects of the plans will decrease the effectiveness of the overall safety and security measures.”

The district said it would send out a summary of the meeting after it concluded, but would not make school officials available for interviews about the discussions, Hanssard said.

The formation of the Santa Fe Strong Safety and Security Committee was announced on June 6 in a news release. The district said the goal of the committee would be “to evaluate and make recommendations on all aspects of school, student and staff safety.” The committee was expected to make recommendations to the Santa Fe ISD Board of Trustees sometime this summer.

The committee would discuss the use of metal detectors in schools, access to mental health services, student dress codes, monitoring social media and other topics, the district said.

Tuesday’s meeting lasted about 90 minutes inside the Santa Fe Independent School District’s Administrative Building. Most of the people who came out of the meeting declined to speak to reporters who waited outside.

One member who did stop, Jessica Hagewood, said she felt the meeting was a productive first step toward safer schools.

“It was all brainstorming,” said Hagewood, who is a parent of three Santa Fe ISD students and one-time candidate for the school board. “Nothing was off limits.”

The school district by Tuesday afternoon had not revealed all the members of the committee, but Hagewood said the group represented a diversity of opinions about school safety topics.

“There was definitely differing opinions,” she said. “Not that we all argued or anything like that, it was more brainstorming. But there are differing opinions.”

The closed meeting continues a policy of mostly silence from the school district since the shooting. After holding two press conferences in the days immediately after the shooting, the district resorted to using a website to solicit and answer media questions.

The district also prohibited media from attending the high school’s graduation ceremony.

School board President J.R. “Rusty” Norman has not returned phone calls left at his home number — which is listed on the school district’s website — seeking comments on the school shooting. School district Superintendent Leigh Wall declined to speak to reporters after leaving the meeting Tuesday.

Santa Fe is not the only school district to create a community committee to talk about school safety. Both the Clear Creek and Galveston independent school districts have similar committees. The meetings in those cities are open to the public.

Because it is an advisory committee, Santa Fe’s meeting likely doesn’t violate Texas open meeting laws, which state that boards that make binding policy decisions must be open and accessible to the public, including the media.

“This is not a situation where the committee will make final decisions for the district or where the board will later be asked to rubber stamp recommendations,” Hanssard said.

But Hagewood believed the committee’s work would be thorough enough that the school board will be compelled to pass whatever the committee recommends, she said.

“Any recommendations the committee comes up with will be the blood-sweat-tears recommendation,” she said. The board not ratifying the recommendation isn’t even a question, she said.

John Wayne Ferguson: 409-683-5226; john.ferguson@galvnews.com or on Twitter @johnwferguson.

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(2) comments

Rusty Schroeder

It seems everything SFISD does is behind closed doors, I am losing faith in the districts leadership. Seems like this "no comment" approach being taken is advised by lawyers who are awaiting lawsuits against the district. 2 days after the shooting at Sunday service at Aldersgate, Rusty Norman said the district had no procedures in place UNTIL there was an active shooter. That is the definition of re-active, the only thing pro-active were drills done in case of a shooter. SFISD doesn't want to discuss why dress codes were not enforced, we now know a trenchcoat on a 95 degree day is probably not a good thing. I am wondering which law firm or firms the district is being advised by. I am not naïve enough to think there is not one. I also want to know what security measures were in the planning of the new elementary school that is being built on 1764. What changes have been made to those plans? All things the district needs to come out from behind closed doors and address.

Jose' Boix

Rules and policy enforcement must be the focus. Districts have many of these rules and policies many of which are not enforced; i.e., dress code and wearing of ID Badges at all times. It is time that we begin to do what is right and set aside the fear of lawsuits. Districts' staff and school boards must join in making such commitment. If our districts do not at the very minimum take this step. So far I have not heard of anyone taken such bold and simple steps. Just my thoughts.

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