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To improve safety, schools need funding, community support and strong relationships with students, South Texas school stakeholders say.
The Corpus Christi Caller-Times hosted a panel discussion with school leaders and stakeholders to further the discussion of safety in schools in response to the May 24 shooting at Uvalde's Robb Elementary School that killed 19 students and two teachers.
The panel can be viewed on Caller.com or the Caller-Times' Facebook page.
The panelists were:
Cecilia "Cissy" Reynolds-Perez, superintendent of Kingsville ISD
Teresa Flores, school board president at Ingleside ISD
Guillermo Ruiz, deputy superintendent of Alice ISD
Nancy Vera, president of Corpus Christi American Federation of Teachers
Tyler Chrobocinski, teacher at Veterans Memorial High School
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In the weeks following the shooting, schools across South Texas and the country evaluated school emergency plans and many announced new safety measures.
South Texas educations share their thoughts
Reynolds-Perez said every educator, parent and student is thinking about school safety and the threat of mass shootings.
"I think we all see ourselves in that situation, that it's a possibility," she said. "And we have to be on our guard and we have to raise the standard on safety."
Flores said the Uvalde massacre in particular felt close to home.
"A lot of the (Education Service Agency) Region 2 districts are comparable in size," Flores said. "We're comparable in the demographics of the school district, etc. So it was different because it was so close and we could really, as (Reynolds-Perez) said, relate to what went on."
Flores and Ruiz said there needs to be a community-wide response to make schools safe.
Chrobocinski said that when he joined the teaching profession, the history of school shootings was on his mind. In his remarks, Chrobocinski focused on the importance of small, local measures and campus climate.
"I need to have a well-knit campus with a chain of communication, knowing my security officers and knowing my students," Chrobocinski said.
Reynolds-Perez said that after a school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas, in 2018, she was serving as principal at Ray High School. She turned to the students, she said.
"They gave us some great ideas," Reynolds-Perez said.
She said one thing she has heard from students is that, oftentimes before an attack, a shooter might post an outcry of concerning statements on social media.
"The students know where the vulnerabilities on the campus are," Chrobocinski agreed.
Vera, who called for funding and training, said the public must keep elected officials accountable to ensure action is taken.
"That anger that I have right now, which is a good anger, means that I think as educators we need to collectively take a stand — as educators, as parents, as a community, we must do better," Vera said. "We must make children our first priority."
Uvalde had a safety plan for an active shooter. Was it followed?
Reynolds-Perez said it is important to keep an eye on students so that educators know when a child needs help.
"Know your students, no excuses," she said. "But also, like Nancy (Vera) said, we need our elected officials to help the school districts."
The panelists also called for more resources and funding to tackle mental health in schools.
"Counselors play a very important role, not only in the times of an event, but before, during and after those events and being a reliable resource for mental health issues," Flores said.
Vera recalled discussing mental health funding challenges for years.
"I know it's been cut again and again and again," Vera said. "In our schools, we are so short-handed. We don't have enough social workers. We don't have enough psychiatrists or psychologists. We don't."
This article originally appeared on Corpus Christi Caller Times: South Texas educators talk school safety in Caller-Times panel