On Feb. 16, two days after the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., a Galveston parent wanted to make a point.
While recording with a phone, the parent walked up to one of the doors at Ball High School and filmed himself entering the school. He waited for a student to leave the building and grabbed a door before it closed all the way — walking into the school’s front hallway. The point was to demonstrate lax security at the high school, said the parent, who posted the video on Facebook.
“How are we supposed to know the difference from a parent and from a school shooter?” the parent wrote. “The fact is, we don’t know and they should have at least one or two of our cops standing up here.”
That door, one of more than 20 ways into Galveston’s high school, is now locked, Galveston Police Chief LeeRoy Amador said Tuesday. And a security guard is permanently stationed in the entryway, he said. The entrance had previously been left unlocked to allow parents to meet with students who were being dismissed by the school.
After 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz on Valentine’s Day shot and killed 17 students and adults at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., school districts, including Galveston’s, are facing increased scrutiny from anxious parents.
Amador didn’t want to dismiss the criticism on the Facebook post, and said there was always room to improve security at the island’s schools. But he said the parent didn’t call him or any other school officials directly before posting the video online.
The Facebook post, which spread quickly through some Galveston social media school groups, didn’t address most of the real work that goes into protecting island students, Amador said.
“It intensifies the panic in the school district,” Amador said. “But we have to make sure that we address all the concerns that come in and make sure nothing happens.”
The school district’s police department has seven full-time officers, Amador said. Some are posted at the district’s schools as monitors, while others rove to address calls involving students and faculty members.
The district also has a full-time dispatcher who fields police calls and monitors a network of security cameras that watch over all of the schools.
The district has technology to monitor students’ social media posts and identify potential threats made against the school, Amador said.
“I am constantly finding ways to improve and tighten our security,” Amador said. “We’re good, but we need to be better.”
Despite the current measures, on Wednesday night the Galveston Independent School District’s board of trustees ordered the school district to review its security procedures in light of several recent security incidents.
The school police department on Feb. 12 arrested two men after hearing shots fired in an alley across the street from the school. No one was injured in that incident, but it did spark a short manhunt through the city.
On Feb. 15, an unfounded rumor circulated about a local school shooting threat. That rumor spread between students and parents by word-of-mouth and through social media.
On Tuesday, police arrested two students after finding a stolen handgun in a car parked on campus.
No one was hurt in either of the criminal incidents, and neither incident included direct threats made against the school or its students.
Finally, on Thursday, the school went through with a preplanned lockdown drill in which teachers were instructed to lock their classroom doors and turn off the lights, and students were asked to find a place to hide.
Students reacted well to the drill, Ball High School Principal Joseph Pillar said.
“I went into eight rooms and what I get is ‘Thank you,’” Pillar said. “I can tell you from our standpoint and from interacting with students, they feel comfortable and they feel safe here.”
More such drills are likely to happen across Galveston County in coming days and weeks.
In a news release Wednesday, the Texas City Police Department announced it had convened a meeting of local law enforcement, including the sheriff’s office and constables, to discuss safety improvements and active shoot training.
Also on Wednesday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott ordered school districts around Texas to ensure they’ve completed state-required safety audits and to deliver the audits to the state.
Districts that don’t complete and turn in their audits in 45 days will be named publicly by the state, Abbott said.
“Our first duty as a government is to protect our citizens from harm,” Abbott said. “These first steps must be taken to keep our students and communities safe, with the understanding that more will be expected in the future.”
Galveston ISD already has competed its audit and turned it into the state, Amador said.
There are some changes in security Amador said he’d like to make. Part of an upcoming bond election is proposed to pay for renovations at some schools to create closed-in entryways. He also is working on a plan to allow Galveston ISD officers to carry rifles in their vehicles in case they need to respond to a shooting.
Amador said he would like to hire up to three more officers for the department, but acknowledged that budget constraints had prevented previous requests for more manpower.
But he doesn’t support arming teachers with their own weapons. In a situation in which armed police might have to respond to a crisis ready to shoot, adding an unknown person with a weapon could mean disaster.
“It would be a danger to that individual,” Amador said. “I’m against it.”