HCISD, in partnership with the city of Harlingen, held a public safety conference at the Harlingen Convention Center on July 16.
The event opened in the main ballroom with some words from Harlingen Mayor Norma Sepulveda, HCISD Superintendent Dr. Alicia Noyola, and Harlingen Police Chief Michael Kester.
“As a mother, as a wife, as a citizen of Harlingen, and as your mayor, safety is important for me,” Sepulveda said. “So, I am really excited that there are so many of you here today that are interested in learning how you can better be aware and take safety measures for yourself. Having that knowledge and knowing where to get that training is really crucial, and there are several things that we can do as individuals, as parents, as just residents of a community to watch out for one another.”
Dr. Noyola spoke about how strong partnerships are important for safety.
“Safety is not one group or one person’s responsibility, it’s all of our responsibility,” Dr. Noyola said. “Our school district and our city of Harlingen have had such tremendous partnerships. If there is one thing that we have learned over the last two years, it is that we are better together as a community. I thought back to our time during COVID, where our nursing staff from our school district and our security personnel worked hand in hand with the city as we were doing a lot of the COVID vaccinations. I thought about the storms, the freezes, and all of the things that we have gone through. We are always working together to ensure that not just our schools, but our community is safe and that we are working collaboratively. That continues to guide our work. This conference is one of those examples of how we continue to have a great partnership.”
Harlingen Police Chief Michael Kester discussed the importance of training and being prepared for certain situations before introducing Sergeant Sanchez, who led a Civilian Response to Active Shooter Events (CRASE) training for all of those in attendance.
“Every officer that is in a school is required to have two trainings, one school-based law enforcement which is a general overview of the school and then another one in which we specifically train for active shooter events,” Kester said. “Hopefully, we never have that event here, but that is one reason why we brought the CRASE training.”
After the training in the main ballroom, conference attendees had an opportunity to join breakout sessions to learn more about other topics on the agenda including cyberbullying, mental health, emergency first aid, COVID-19, school safety, and hurricane preparedness.
In one room, Director of Emergency Management and School Safety, Danny Castillo, led the session on school safety.
He discussed some of the initiatives already in place across the district including security fencing, raptor visitor management system, camera surveillance, and automatic locking classroom doors, among other safety and security measures.
“There is not one measure in itself that will help us achieve the goals that we have for a safe school,” Castillo said. “The innovative approach incorporates layers of measures and procedures and processes. It’s not just going to be one measure although each one of the measures in themselves are extremely important. What makes a school district, a business, or your home safe is going to be layers of things that you do.”
He went on to discuss the current partnership that exists between HCISD and local law enforcement agencies.
“We have our SROs who have those master key access to the exterior of the building and to each of our classrooms,” Castillo said. “We are also making sure we have assigned key systems to Harlingen PD. We have some of our campuses that are not within the jurisdiction of the Harlingen Police Department, so we had meetings in those different jurisdictions, Primera and Combes. I have key communication with them as well. We are assigning them master key sets to those campuses, in the event that we did have to respond, they would have immediate access.”
He ended his session by mentioning an additional measure HCISD will incorporate next school year to enhance safety and security.
“Beginning with our 2022-2023 school year, we are going to create a centralized video surveillance monitoring center that we will man with some new security staff,” Castillo said. “Their responsibility solely in that one center will be to monitor those external cameras to each and every one of our campuses. We are enhancing that layer by making sure that there are staff there throughout every school day to be monitoring the external and outward perimeter of our campuses. They, of course, will have communication with the rest of our security team, with our law enforcement partners, and administration.”
To learn more about HCISD Safety Initiatives, visit www.hcisd.org/safety.