Texas School Safety Center Director on Uvalde shooting

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(CBSDFW.COM)Texas School Safety Center Director Dr. Kathy Martinez-Prather says Tuesday’s elementary school shooting in Uvalde was another senseless act of violence.

READ MORE: 14 students dead, 1 teacher killed after Uvalde elementary school shooting

“Ending the school year like this is extremely heartbreaking and our hearts and prayers go out to that entire community and the parents that lost their loved ones today.” 

CBS 11’s Nicole Baker interviewed Dr. Martinez-Prather Tuesday afternoon. 

Nicole: Walk us through your program and what you do at the Texas School Safety Center.

Dr. Martinez-Prather: The Texas School Safety Center was established in 1999, actually short after the Columbine school shooting. That gives you a little reference and point in time, where the state knew they needed to have resources dedicated to this effort. The center is charged as the central clearing house here in the state of Texas to provide training, technical assistance and research to all of our K-12 schools, junior community colleges and charter schools. One of those pieces and legislation that school districts are required to have is a multi hazard emergency operations plan. The school safety center is now charged with reviewing those plans and providing guidance for school districts to ensure that there is a quality plan in place. The focus here is multi-hazard. So school districts deal with a multitude of hazards every single day. And more and more school shootings acts of violence seem to be almost something that we see in the news, quite often. And so we want schools to have a multi-hazard perspective, but we want them to be ready and prepared and trained to deal with one of the most catastrophic things that could happen to a school community. And so those are things that we work with schools on is developing an active threat plan as part of their larger plan. And, you know, what are we going to do to mitigate loss of life as much as possible? A big preventative piece to all of this work that we work with school districts on is the behavioral threat assessment piece is really trying to get at identifying individuals that may be on a path to violence, way before they ever commit that. But we can’t guarantee 100% of the time that we’re going to prevent these acts from occurring. Preparing, training, and drilling to your plan is the most effective way to save lives.

Nicole: I see here that some of the preventative security measures that you guys have in place as police officers, motion detectors and alarm systems. I mean, this is this is a comprehensive list… perimeter fencing, locked classroom door policy, etc. Can you walk me through maybe the top initiatives that you guys like to focus on from that list? What are some of the most important that you think for parents or guardians to hear?

Dr. Martinez-Prather: Well, we take a very comprehensive and holistic approach to school safety. So, while you know the physical aspects of having things such as metal detectors, or perimeter fencing, that’s just one piece to the larger puzzle. Those things in and of themselves don’t provide a comprehensive approach to school safety. It’s a piece to it. We want to focus on preventative efforts, making sure that we’re identifying risk factors early on. Those are definitely pieces to the puzzle. But we want to look at it from a comprehensive perspective, we want to look at it all the way from prevention, mitigation, to recovery. And so those are important things that we want to stress to schools is, you know, having law enforcement in the school setting is critical when it comes to to a response time, and having those resources there to be able to respond effectively, efficiently when trained, effectively to do that work in a school setting. And so there is a role that our law enforcement have to play in protecting the safety and security of our school environments. And, you know, there’s more to come out with what happened. We’ll we’ll get to learn a little bit more about the response that took place with the school district,

Nicole: What is the physical feeling that goes through your body when you hear a school shooting? What is your what is your feeling and your reaction as a parent?

Dr. Martinez-Prather: I think for me, as a parent, and most parents, who hear about something like this occurring, it creates a lot of fear. It is really important that we never get complacent. And that we never have that mindset that this could never happen in my school, this could never happen in my community, because it can. It’s really important that we all not just school staff, but the community, the parents, we all remain vigilant and helping to support safety and security efforts moving forward. And that’s really important. One thing I do want to stress is that schools, still today, remain to be one of the safest places we can send our children. I really want to stress that message, that schools still are a safe place. Parents should not be scared to send their children to school. But we should have an expectation that when our children are there, that there are safety procedures in place to ensure that these incidents are being mitigated. And preventative efforts are being put in place. So they don’t happen. And if they do, there is an effective and immediate response.

Nicole: A lot of outlets from across the country will will say “This is Texas… it’s an open carry state with very limited requirements on gun purchasing and gun training.” What’s your reaction and your response to that?

Dr. Martinez-Prather: I will stick to saying that it is important that school districts ensure that school safety is a part of the educational agenda, and it is a comprehensive approach, and it’s not just metal detectors and perimeter fencing. It involves parental involvement, it involves our law enforcement community supporting these efforts. It’s a whole community approach when it comes to school safety. And despite what is going on on the outside, I think that that is irrelevant to the situation at hand. And we need to really focus on the safety and security of our schools. And what we can do to prevent, mitigate and ensure an effective and immediate response, we’ve developed an active tool, annex to the basic plan, which really focuses on specific planning for active threats. Whether it’s an active shooter, whether it’s somebody coming on school with a knife, or as we’ve seen just lately, driving a car into a building. It’s really getting schools to wrap their head around all types of threats that could happen. Schools go to into lockdown for many reasons and it’s not just for an active shooter situation. This is a really hones in specifically on how to walk through an active threat situation and that resources available to schools, as well.

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