Audit says Liberty Hill schools are safe

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By SHELLY WILKISON

Liberty Hill schools are safe.

That was the message delivered to school trustees Monday by Assistant Superintendent Chad Pirtle, who presented results of a district-wide safety audit.

The audit, which is required by the state every three years, is conducted by school district staff and submitted to Texas School Safety Center at Texas State University.

Trustees listened as Pirtle described changes that had been made to secure facilities since the 2014 audit, as well as improving safety of bus transportation.

After his presentation, trustees asked multiple questions about the use of drug testing and the implementation of a school resource officer program to deter drug use.

When asked for his opinion about whether it would be good to have an officer on campus, Pirtle said he had “mixed” views on the issue.

“We are served well by LHPD (Liberty Hill Police Department), Williamson County Sheriff — they do a fine job,” he said. “There’s a lot of discussion and debate to be had on that topic.”

Trustee Vickie Peterson, a former teacher at Liberty Hill High School, commended administrators for staying ahead of security challenges, but added that “drug testing is critical to consider or reconsider.”

“With the growth we’re anticipating, maybe we should be anticipating that things will happen. I think a security officer is one to consider, too. Just the presence of that and the fear of drug testing can, I think, prevent poor decisions.”

Pirtle explained that the district has several tools in place to help detect drugs and deter use on school grounds. The district has a contract with a company that provides a drug detecting dog 12 times per year. The law restricts the use of the dog to checking property rather than students.

He also noted the use of an Anonymous Tips tool whereby students or anyone can submit an online form to report various activities they have observed or have information about.

Pirtle admitted, however, that “kids don’t use it very often.”

He also said that involving the community in discussions about illegal drug use and underage drinking is positive. He reminded trustees about a Town Hall meeting held at the high school last spring, which was sponsored by LHISD, the Liberty Hill Chamber of Commerce and The Independent, that brought together experts on those issues as part of a panel discussion.

He said it was a good start to involve the community.

“The community has to embrace it to make an impact,” he said.

“Is drug testing or a security officer…is it the cost, or what is the hesitation? What’s stopping that from happening?” asked Peterson.

Superintendent Rob Hart responded that the parameters of drug testing “are tight as to what we’re allowed to do. It’s mostly extra-curricular activities.”

Peterson said in her research she had found that most of the surrounding school districts — large and small — were doing some form of drug testing.

“I would think it would be somewhat productive if you’ve got all the other school districts doing it,” she said.

“To me, it seems like we’ve danced all around it,” said Stephenson. “Are you not wanting to talk about that (the value of an SRO) now? I’m just asking for your opinion.”

Pirtle said the safety audit did not address an SRO program or drug testing, and he had not done enough research on those topics to be able to answer the questions.

Peterson asked if administrators would do the research on both an SRO and drug testing and return to the Board at a future meeting to discuss the findings and possibly make a recommendation.

“A lot of school districts implement things of that nature, but does that mean they’ve solved the problems?” said Board President Clay Cole. “I agree that it’s something to consider. I think we can come back and talk about that. We can do some research and think about that.”

“Well, I know that I don’t drive 85 if there’s a cop in front of me,” added Stephenson.

Pirtle said the safety study, which was submitted to TSSC, involved campus principals and the transportation department. He said intruder assessments were conducted at each campus, as well as risk assessments that involved observing students in passing period, arrival and dismissal times and lunch periods. Administrators also reviewed emergency operation procedures.

LHISD follows the “I Love You Guys” standard response protocol that establishes common language and procedures throughout the district, he said. Staff have been trained in the system, and students are familiar with the protocol. Drills for fire, weather and lockdowns are held throughout the year.

Other improvements made in advance of this school year include prohibiting walk-up traffic at the start and end of school at each elementary campus, restricting transportation changes to 1 p.m. daily and requiring those changes be done via email, and restricting bus drop off locations to the student’s regular stop.

Additionally, each campus has a secure entry vestibule for the first time, has new or updated video cameras in place, and each campus is enforcing the “No ID, No Entry” rule.

Pirtle said he would not speak to specific vulnerabilities identified in this safety audit as he believed it would pose a security risk.

“I believe we have safe campuses,” said Pirtle. “We always have to be vigilant when it comes to safety and security of students and staff. It is our top priority. I’m proud of the progress we’ve made in the last few years.”

In other business this week, Trustees unanimously approved an order allowing the Superintendent the authority to authorize the sale of 2011 bonds. Refunding bonds allows the school district to take advantage of a lower interest rate and realize a savings on debt service beginning in fiscal year 2019.

The Board also heard a report by Assistant Superintendent Toni Hicks on the 2017-2018 District Improvement Plan. The plan sets goals and strategies that educators follow to help improve student achievement and the learning environment. The document may be found on the district’s website, www.libertyhill.txed.net.

Trustees also approved the creation of a new LifeSkills position at Liberty Hill Junior High.

Following a 15-minute executive session, the Board approved the employment of Bridget Friday as an ILS teacher at Rancho Sienna Elementary; Kristen Pritchett for 4th Grade at Bill Burden; and Joyce Peacock as Special Education teacher at Liberty Hill Intermediate.

The Board approved the resignation of Marilyn Dupre, a special education teacher at Rancho Sienna.

Administrators reported current enrollment at 4,029 with the high school enrollment at 1,130. Average Daily Attendance is 3,868 and the budget is built on ADA of 3,716.

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