Principal addresses safety concerns at meeting

“I am disappointed by the lack of parents who showed up” — parent Melba Hernandez


Kaylanie Saldua, Staff Writer

In response to the unease caused by school shootings across the nation, Bear Creek held an informal meeting for parents and students to discuss security measures on Wed., April 11. For a student body that numbers over 2,000, a total of 15 people sat in the library to hear what Bear Creek is doing to protect its students from a school shooter.

“I am disappointed by the lack of parents who showed up,” parent Melba Hernandez said. “People need to come together to learn to prevent tragedies, not just after one happens.”

Bear Creek had its first unplanned lockdown drill of the school year on Friday, April 6, 51 days after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. The drill was to test the school’s alarm system and how people would respond because unplanned lockdowns force a more natural response.

When students and staff are forewarned, they don’t often take policies and protocols as seriously. Some teachers even continue lessons during drills to avoid losing class time.

“I was a bit anxious on holding an unplanned lockdown,” Principal Hillary Harrell said. “It was held during a not-so-ideal situation: sixth period passing period.”

The lockdown was unexpected but Vice Principal Sera Baysinger announced moments before that it was a drill. Most students — still in the hallways — didn’t hear the announcement and assumed it was a real active shooter scenario.

“The drill scared me because they made it seem so real like doing it unexpectedly and teachers screaming to get into classrooms, it was chaos,” senior Kelly Huynh said. “It made me think what I would’ve done in an actual situation.”

The feedback and questions Harrell received showed how invested the students were in protecting themselves during an actual drill.

“People were very aware of their surroundings and students took it very seriously in general,” Harrell said. “We were happy with that type of feedback.”

Harrell and School Resource Officer Erica Gonzales walked the campus during the drill to observe if the lockdown was following protocols. When they caught students who were frozen, they pulled them aside and advised them to go to a classroom.

“Students need to be more alert in these types of situations,” Harrell said.

In addition to training and lockdown drills, Harrell has been advocating for improvements to better protect Bear Creek. Measure U, for example, would replace the outdated intercom system with a new technological intercom that can sound alarms with a phone. She is also hoping to have the district invest in a buzz-in system for the front gate like those at elementary schools.

“I am surprised that high schools do not have this system, since the majority of shootings happen at them,” parent Carla Gonzalez said.

Another school safety issue identified is the number of classrooms that have entrances outside the gated areas — left open to exposure from outside predators.

Harrell plans to put in a bid this summer for fencing around the small gym, theater and the K and F buildings to address the students regularly going outside of campus on their way to classes. If there is fencing, students should be able to stay within school bound areas without wandering on and off of campus.

However, this solution may overlook other classrooms with similar problems, such as art teacher Shan Swoverland’s classroom, C8. Swoverland’s classroom door is outside the gates facing the staff parking lot, and Swoverland says that some teachers and students even use his door to enter the school in the mornings.

“I have pretty much on my own been making sure that [my door] is locked at all times unless [my students] have to come in and out,” Swoverland said. “My radar is always going off these days, it always has been, for my students’ safety, so I’m always aware of … the surroundings.”
Administration has not directly addressed the problem with Swoverland’s classroom, and Harrell is unsure of whether or not the proposed gate will extend around the C building.

“I don’t know how far down [the gate] would go,” Harrel said. “I know that proposal is in the works in what we call “capital outlay,” so I have spoken with the Director of Maintenance and Operations and he has begun the process but I don’t know where we are in the process.”
“No one has really talked about it,” Swoverland said. “I have not had any concerns from any parents as far as the school safety plan … but no, I haven’t [heard from administration about it].”

In the Santa Fe school shooting earlier this month, the assailant entered from behind the school through an art classroom.
The few parents at the meeting appeared satisfied with what the administration is doing and the plans in place to ensure student safety at Bear Creek.
“I trust Bear Creek to protect my child,” Gonzalez said. “The school seems confident in its policies and cautionary steps.”
Students and parents can also help. The best way to ensure safety during a school shooting is to report it before it happens. Officers and admin are stressing the importance that students report any threats they see on their social media. Parents need to report what they see, too. No one should let anything they know or see go unaddressed.

“Always report whatever you see on social media, even if it doesn’t seem important — it is,” Sergeant James Farthing said. “There is a zero tolerance for school threats.”