How to best protect students? Round Rock ISD board considering options

Save Our Students

ROUND ROCK, Texas (KXAN) — The board of trustees for the Round Rock Independent School District faces the tough task of deciding how to best protect students, though it’s still unclear if the district will ultimately decide to create its own police department.

On Monday evening, board members heard about several different options that the district’s safety and security task force presented following a year-long assessment.

The detailed, lengthy presentation included no clear recommendation about what the school board should do next, but task force members hope their work will provide much more information to guide the board’s decision-making process.

“If you look at the depth of our work and research, you’d understand there’s no quick fix,” Tiffanie Harrison told KXAN. “There are upsides and downsides to any decision that we can make, and kids are worth it to be that thorough.”

Harrison currently teaches marketing at Round Rock High School, and has served for the past year on the district’s safety and security task force.

She said the presentation identifies some “essential components” for the school board to consider while deciding what kind of law enforcement presence it wants throughout the district. Those include educational and racial equity; behavioral health; additional training; target hardening; community education; and independent accountability and oversight.

Harrison explained why she pushed so hard for the district to particularly address disparities among students while school leaders are discussing their security.

“I think, when I talk about that, a lot of people are surprised and are like, ‘What does that have to do with policing?’” Harrison said. “Well, if you give the district authority to criminalize students, and we know from research and evidence that the students who end up being disproportionately and often unfairly criminalized and sent to the school-to-prison pipeline are black students, Hispanic students, students receiving special education services, students that are economically disadvantaged, then we’re not necessarily doing what’s best for the most marginalized students. That’s definitely something that’s tied in, and that’s what I’m really passionate about and want to see addressed.”

The task force suggested a few options when it comes to security on campuses.

One would be to negotiate a new contract with Williamson County, which already provides some school resource officers to Round Rock ISD. The district could also consider hiring private security or rely on volunteer guardians or school marshals to protect campuses, according to the group’s report.

When it comes to the district possibly creating its own police department, the task force shared an estimate that it could cost more than $7 million a year to cover salaries, benefits and other expenses for officers.

Plus, Harrison said she’d like to see the district convene an oversight committee for whatever law enforcement entity ends up working with the district.

“Ultimately, we’re here to serve kids and serve them well,” Harrison said. “And so I don’t think we should shy away from oversight if we’re acting with honor and integrity with everything we do.”

The board needs to reach a decision relatively soon because neither Williamson County nor Round Rock police plan to provide school resource officers to the district after the end of the next school year in 2021.

“Make a decision. Move forward because right now all we’re doing is creating fear,” Ricci Nelson said while pointing to Round Rock High School. “We have soft targets. This is a soft target, and that scares me every day.”

One of Nelson’s sons attends the high school, while another survived the school shooting in Parkland, Florida. She said that tragedy makes her want to see only one solution in Round Rock.

“My thing is I want SROs on every campus,” Nelson said. “Where you get them from, that’s not my problem. That’s the district’s problem, and that’s where they have to move forward.”

The presentation from the task force also included a startling statistic that three students per day report thoughts of suicide. That’s why the members suggested adding services to address behavioral and mental health.

Those suggestions include hiring a social worker for every school or creating a department to specifically oversee a district police department and social services.

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