Less than three weeks before the start of a new school year, the leader of Texas’ largest school district said its police department is not prepared to adequately respond to an active-shooter scenario like the one that claimed the lives of 19 children and two teachers earlier this year in Uvalde.
Houston ISD superintendent Millard House II addressed the preparedness level of the HISD Police Department while discussing proposed expenditures of more than $100,000 for rifles, ammunition and ballistic plate shields during Thursday night’s agenda review meeting of the HISD board of trustees. The board is expected to vote on the proposed purchases at next week’s meeting.
“Right now, as we’ve studied the Uvalde scenario and looked at what preparation and the proper preparation that needs to be in place, our officers would not have been prepared for what that looks like,” House said.
Upwards of 200,000 students attend HISD, which employs about 200 police officers. The 2022-23 school year is scheduled to start Aug. 22, with teachers reporting to work Monday.
Trustee Dani Hernandez asked if the desire to fortify the HISD police department is “based on research or our feelings,” also wondering if the expenditure request was in response to community input. Trustee Judith Cruz said she also had concerns about the proposed purchase, saying the board has adopted a policy to not consider approving items that “perpetuate disproportionate discipline.”
Cruz also mentioned that responding officers at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, where an 18-year-old gunman killed 21 people inside a classroom, were well-armed with rifles and shields.
HISD Police Chief Pedro Lopez said a lack of training and preparation led to those officers’ waiting more than an hour until they confronted the shooter. So he said his plan is to use the 200 rifles and 200 ballistic plate shields being requested initially for training purposes and then for deployment in the event of an active-shooter scenario on an HISD campus.
“We train every year in active-shooter training,” Lopez said. “But in order to become better and be better prepared, to provide an adequate response, you need actual scenario-based training with live fire, with shields. You need to learn how to maneuver those doors, how to overcome a breach in those doors. We don’t have that equipment in order to do that.”
HISD has not solicited the input of students’ families or the community at large regarding the necessity to more heavily arm the district’s police officers, according to House.
Trustee Kathy Blueford-Daniels said she met with parents of students at Garcia Elementary in June, shortly after the May 24 massacre in Uvalde.
“The first foremost important thing they asked, not long after Uvalde, was how safe are their children going to be,” Blueford-Daniels said. “So not only do we have to concern ourselves with our children, but we have to concern ourselves with the staffs, etc., in these schools. I just want to keep that to the forefront.”
HISD released a statement from House on Friday in which he expanded on his remarks at the school board meeting. He said several district campuses received upgrades this summer to their fencing, cameras and video storage capacity.
Elementary schools in HISD are assigned patrol units that monitor those campuses throughout the day, House said, while the HISD police department staffs each high school and middle school with a school resource officer.
“As an HISD parent myself, the safety and security of our students and staff is my highest priority,” House said Friday. “… Our officers need the proper training and equipment so that the district is prepared for a worst-case scenario. As I shared at our recent board meeting, our current assessment is that HISD PD needs additional equipment and resources to ensure they are prepared to respond to just that kind of situation. That is why we’ve put forward several safety-related items before the board for approval on next week’s agenda.”