by Emma Fitzhugh | Staff Writer
NEISD continues to monitor school safety after a non-credible threat followed by an actual incident on a high school campus where a student was found to be in possession of firearms.
“I can’t guarantee, and nobody can guarantee, that something like Columbine or anything like that would not happen anywhere, because we’re so open, and because of what we believe about school. Our plan is to minimize what may occur,” principal John Mehlbrech said.
On Thursday April 24, Northside ISD came into contact with an anonymous email that threatened violence upon an unknown elementary school within the district. In response to the email, NISD, with the assistance of several other school districts, SAPD, San Antonio’s Regional Intelligence Center (SARIC), and the FBI began monitoring the credibility of the threat.
After several days of investigating, Chief McManus of the SAPD determined on Tuesday, April 22 that the credibility of the threat was “low”, but in order to “err on the side of caution” NISD superintendent Brian Woods decided to implement the “Controlled Access Plan” on Thursday the 24. Features of this plan include following the Identification/Raptor protocol, establishing all NISD elementary schools as “closed campus,”meaning a limited number of visitors, the use of only one main entrance into each school among other precautions.
Although it proved to be an empty threat, the threat to school safety had serious repercussions.
The NEISD attendance rate that day was 63 percent and that cost the district approximately $300,000according to NEISD’s Executive Director of Communications Aubrey Chancellor.
And NEISD was just one of several major school districts who lost this kind of money, with some districts loosing over one million dollars on Thursday alone. Northside Independent School District had an overall attendance rate of 57 percent, as well as San Antonio ISD, which had an overall attendance rate of approximately 66 percent. Furthermore, these three districts (NEISD, NISD, and SAISD) are among the largest districts in San Antonio, with each one having a typical attendance rate of 95%.
This lose in NISD’s budget cost the district not only to lose a valuable day of instruction, but the money schools earn from daily attendance, typically used to fund important services/programs for students and teachers, including school equipment and other school-related services, was greatly affected by Thursday’s staggering attendance rate.
Even though the financial aspect of this threat was exponential, Chancellor explains how because the threat was considered to be of low credibility, NEISD chose to continue with school on April 24.
“The San Antonio Police Department did not believe the threat was credible, so there would not be a reason to cancel school. Regardless, many parents were still frightened on Thursday and opted not to send their children to school,” Chancellor said.
Mehlbrech seems to agree with Chancellor, who adds that it is this fear of “what if” that makes students apprehensive about coming to school during times like these.
“When we call school off, or we tell kids not to come to school, yeah, it does hurt attendance. It hurts financially, very significantly. But that’s not the reason why we continued with school. The priority of it is, you know Franklin D. Roosevelt said it the best, ‘The only thing you have to fear is fear itself.’ If we’re gonna be fearful everywhere we go, it’s gonna be a very stressful life. If we constantly worry about it, and isolate ourselves, they win. And a lot of these threats are to see what kind of reaction we provide,” Mehlbrech said.
After Thursday, schools continued to remain on high alert to ensure the safety of all students. However, even with heightened security, an actual incident did take place. On Monday April 28, a student at Madison High School brought three loaded guns, a 12-inch knife, and a AK-47 to school. Whether the student was planning a mass shooting or not is unknown, but he did plan on making demands over the intercom.
“The student’s parents had reported him as a runaway that morning and arrived at the school after it was determined that he was there. During a meeting with school officials and their son, the student’s parents asked that his backpack be checked. After finding two loaded guns and the knife, his parents asked him where the third gun was,” Chancellor said.
The parents found the third gun hidden in a trash can in a bathroom on campus.
“Obviously, we’ll continue talking with him to determine what his full intentions were. Right now, we’re just thankful that whatever he had planned was averted,” Chancellor said.
But it’s close-calls like these that help remind students and faculty to remain even more on alert as school officials attempt to keep everyone as safe as possible.
“The Madison thing was a very serious deal, and only because the parent came up and said hey, we got an issue. Otherwise, we’d probably be talking about something different today. But if I was at Madison, I would be on even more alert, because it happened at their school,” Mehlbrech said.
Substitute teacher David Mooney, a regular sub for JHS, explains how he was actually at Madison the day weapons were brought onto the campus, and provides further details as to what he had to do in order to keep his students safe during the lockdown.
“When the lockdown happened, they said lockdown now, and we locked down. I was in the Agricultural (Ag) building, and it’s very open to the front of the school, so we had to take all the kids, there was about 17 kids in the class, and we had to take them into this small anti-room, which is like a room where they put animals, like at a vet’s place. It was a really small room. And I have all these kids in there, and one of the young ladies started throwing up. And the room had a big sink, like a service sink there, and she kept throwing up into that and then washing it down,” Mooney said.
So in the middle of the lockdown, Mooney had to go back into the classroom to call for someone to come help the sick girl so that the remaining students could continue with the lockdown.
“So I had to sneak back out into the classroom and push the button and say, ‘We need help please out here,’ and they came and sent someone, a vice principal, out to pick her up. Because everything was in lockdown for two hours. The lockdown started close to the beginning of second period, I had just taken the roll. At the end of third period they called it, the lockdown,” Mooney said.
In addition, Mooney also had to ask for outside help a second time because every classroom needed to be locked during the lockdown, but substitutes are not issued keys.
“I had to go get the kids in the room and then find somebody to lock the door so no one could come in to the place. I found the teacher over on the other side and I said, ‘I need help, I need you to lock the door for me,’ so he came and locked the door for me, and he helped me get all the kids into the anti-room,” Mooney said.
Once all of the students were finally able to sit together in the anti-room, Mooney and the students simply had to wait until the lockdown was lifted before they could resume instruction.
“Everybody was kinda squished and we, you know they’re teenagers, they were maybe 10th and 11th graders so they got a little excited. And then they started going on their cell phones and checking out what was happening on campus, and that’s how we learned about what the lockdown was all about. Then the students just started playing off of each other, and they calmed down,” Mooney said.
Fortunately, this was not Mooney’s first time dealing with a situation like this. As a substitute teacher in Los Angeles, Mooney dealt with school violence almost on a daily basis, who went on to explain how he once coerced a student into giving him his gun, which he had brought to school that day.
But, like Chancellor and Mehlbrech said, there are still “copy cats” out there. Sure enough, on Tuesday, April 29 Madison responded to yet another threat against school safety when a student received a text from an unknown number, later traced back to a student at Judson high school, claiming that she was at Madison with a gun.
“She [Judson student] and the Madison student work together at a local movie theater, but he did not have her number programmed into his phone and didn’t know who was messaging him,” Chancellor said.
The Judson student who sent the text message on Tuesday was arrested mid-day Wednesday. However, campus administration proceeded with instituting additional safety measure for the remainder of the year. Students must now carry mesh or clear backpacks and the campus is not officially open each morning until 7:45 am.
“You just don’t know. You don’t know what triggers it, you don’t know what crosses the line, you don’t know what that would be. But we have to watch carefully everyday. And there’s a lot of pressure on us to make sure you guys are safe. But the help from you all [students] helps us prevent a lot of that as well. Because if you look at the research you’ll hear a lot of kids who get “caught” before they do the act. They have a list, they may have bomb-making material and whatever it might be, but somebody squealed on them. And it saved a lot of lives. So that’s what we have to rely on a lot,” Mehlbrech said.