The first fire drill was one of the hardest days.
A few weeks after the fall start of the school year, Santa Fe High School was required to hold a fire drill.
It was the first time the school had to practice an evacuation since a shooting in the fine arts hallway left eight students and two teachers dead and another 13 people injured.
School officials realized a fire drill would be traumatic for students and staff that were in the school during the shooting, Principal Rachel Blundell said.
The school took the lightest touch it could, she said. It didn’t trip fire alarms, and gave parents and students plenty of information about when the drill would happen and what it would be like.
“The day itself was traumatic to begin with,” Blundell said. The students were going to have to go down the same hallways they had evacuated out of months before.
The school got through that and has continued to take each day one at a time, Blundell said.
“We still have triggers,” she said. But in recent months, a relative calm has seemed to settle in the school, although more emotions are starting to resurface as the first anniversary of the shooting approaches.
Santa Fe school officials on Wednesday said much of the past year has been like that — dealing with the aftermath of a tremendous trauma, amid attempts to keep things at the school as normal as possible.
“Obviously, it’s been a difficult year for all of us,” said Superintendent Leigh Wall. “We have worked really hard and diligently to put a lot of measures in place to enhance security and mental health support.”
In the year since the shooting, some of the changes at Santa Fe High School have been obvious. The school district invested nearly $3 million in security upgrades, adding more police officers on campus and installing a secure entrance vestibule and metal detectors at the front of the high school.
Other changes were made to the building as well. Art classes are being taught in science classrooms, for lack of a better place to put them, for now, officials said.
The school district added six new police officers, and 10 new “campus safety assistants,” four wellness counselors and 256 new video cameras, as well as automatic door locks and a mass notification system.
Students have adjusted to the security improvements, Blundell said. The metal detectors no longer seem to delay classes. Some 60 percent, about 650 students, at the high school have attended a counseling session, Blundell said.
Blundell was struck by the amount of unity the school’s students have shown over the school shooting, she said.
“The best thing that’s going on in Santa Fe High School right now is our students,” Blundell said. “Our student body has been completely driven on recovery.”
She noted that the high school’s sports teams have had “more playoff runs than we’ve ever had,” and arts students have similarly been successful in statewide competitions.
School officials believed that most of their post-shooting plans have worked or been accomplished, they said. A few things, like changes to the student dress code, had to be re-adjusted after they were first announced, but the group on Wednesday said there were few examples of things that didn’t work out as expected.
That’s not to say there hasn’t been frustrations with some of the actions taken by the district, and fears about what the future holds.
School officials, citing the ongoing law enforcement investigation into shooting, have said little about the district’s knowledge about Dimitrios Pagourtzis, the 18-year-old charged with the shooting.
“There’s a lot of information we still don’t have and answers we still don’t have,” Wall said. “Until we have those answers, we won’t be able to respond. We only have the information that we have.”
That being said, there’s also no apparent plans for the district or the state to begin an independent investigation of the events of May 18, an endeavor that other schools that endured mass shootings have undergone to varying extents.
The district does soon plan to release the results of a safety audit, conducted by the Texas School Safety Center at Texas State University, Wall said. That audit evaluated the school’s current security measures, not the security on May 18, 2018, Wall said.
Wall and school board President J.R. “Rusty” Norman also have spent a significant amount of time lobbying the Texas Legislature for funding that will allow the district to continue affording the security upgrades it has made over the last year.
On Friday, the last full school day before Saturday’s anniversary, attendance will be optional at the high school and the district will again have extra resources on hand, officials said.
After clearing that hurdle, the school district’s attention will turn again to the next hurdle, whatever it might be, Norman said.
“What I know is that it’s not going away tomorrow,” Norman said.