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Bullet-proof glass, mental health teams among new efforts to keep Frisco schools safe

Bullet-proof glass, lockdown technology and stepped up intervention to help students at risk of hurting themselves or others are part of the Frisco school district’s newest efforts to keep schools safe.

After the deadly shooting at a high school in Santa Fe last year, Texas lawmakers made school safety a priority this past session by funneling additional money and requiring districts to enhance security efforts.

Frisco’s stepped up initiatives include focusing on mental health awareness for students and making campuses even more secure with enhanced features.

“When you look at the research, the best thing we can do to prevent school violence is to make sure every single kid has a place where they feel like they belong and they’re safe,” said Dr. Stephanie Cook, managing director of guidance and counseling services for Frisco schools.

And key to that is focusing on students’ mental health as their emotional well being has a direct connection to school violence, Dr. Cook said.

For example, FISD is developing threat-assessment teams for each campus that will identify students who exhibit markedly different behavior. That could include threatening to harm someone or shut down a school through social media posts. The teams could also be called in to help when a student appears isolated or makes suicidal or homicidal remarks.

Team members will then connect students to various help, such as counseling. The district also will implement separate teams that will determine a student’s risk level for suicide.

“It’s just a chance for us as a team to sit down again and say, ‘What else can we do to provide help so that they don’t feel helpless and act out?” Cook said.

The new teams are in addition to an expanded counseling department, which added 44 positions last year.

Enhanced building security for the district includes installing bullet-resistant glass to interior classrooms and campus lockdown technology, which can electronically lock doors and notify authorities in case of an emergency. In 2018, voters approved a bond package that included $4.3 million for such campus safety features.

The bond also includes $8.3 million for surveillance updates, which will help replace about 2,400 existing security cameras with updated models.

Texas’ new school safety bill requires districts to have an emergency plan. Frisco officials said in addition to that, the district is one of the few that has a position solely dedicated to emergency management. Jon Bodie, the emergency manager, works across the district to support training on safety, such as what to do in active-shooter situations.

“I definitely feel like we are ahead of the curve just from the standpoint of having a position fully focused on emergency preparedness,” Bodie said.

For over 10 years, Frisco has collaborated with local police, fire and other emergency officials on the Situational Awareness for Emergency Response, or S.A.F.E.R., program that allows FISD and authorities to conduct safety drills as well as gives them live feed access to cameras inside and outside of the schools. The unique program helps first responders and school administrators work together as they plan and practice responses to emergencies in real time, Bodie said.

The STOPit app was created two years ago as a tool for students and parents to report concerns anonymously. The app allows users to upload pictures, video, audio and, most recently, screenshots. The app has been downloaded about 19,800 times and is constantly monitored, including on weekends and holidays.

“It’s been a very valuable program to us,” Bodie said. “The monitoring around the clock makes a big difference in how we’re able to respond.”

Frisco also offers resources for teachers, including webinar-based and scenario-based training that help prepare them for emergency situations.

Frisco school officials also work with families to learn more about possible concerns.

Parents are encouraged to contact their campus administrators to voice their concerns, officials said. Other options are the informal Coffee Talk sessions that take place on campuses and involve school board members and district leaders. During these sessions, parents can ask questions, clear up any miscommunication or share opinions.

“Our relationship with the community is very good,” said Kevin Haller, Frisco ISD’s director of security. “When they have concerns, they will reach out to us.”

The next Coffee Talk session for Frisco ISD parents is at 6:30 p.m. on Nov. 19 at Rogers Elementary

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