Safety is our Top Priority

As we conclude the second week of school, I wanted to share with you important safety efforts that the district is taking. Safety is our top priority, and we make every effort to ensure that every one of our students is safe, every day.

Unfortunately, last week, on the second day of school, a pre-K student at Pickle Elementary left the campus unattended during recess, just before lunch.  Austin Fire Department staff observed the child a short distance from the school and notified the Austin Police Department, and the student was safely returned to school. Although it was an isolated case, I take this seriously.

Today, I made a second visit to the school to monitor and evaluate the district's response.

Immediately after our AISD Police Department summarized what happened, these steps were taken at the school level:

  • The  principal sent a letter home to parents informing them of the situation, and that the district immediately started an investigation.
  • The principal and district administrators met with staff to review playground procedures and discuss safety and security protocols.
  • I visited Pickle on Tuesday, Sept. 3 to meet with the principal and tour the school site.
  • After reviewing all the information, I directed our Facilities Department to enclose the entire playground area in question with fencing.  The gate located along the play area perimeter, near the footbridge, will be relocated to the front of the playscape to now face the school.  A second gate with a latch will be installed on the side near the City of Austin restrooms to provide community access to the playscape after school hours. More fencing along the drainage canal has been added to redirect student away from the footbridge. The new fencing and gates will be completed before students return to school on Monday, Sept. 9.
  • The principal and district administrators continued training on playground procedures during the Thursday, Sept. 5 staff meeting. 
  • The district's police department and staff will continue to review the Pickle facilities and safety and security procedures at the school.

And we didn't limit our review to this one school. At the district level:

  • On Sept. 4, all AISD principals were instructed to review safety procedures with their staffs.
  • Our Office of Facilities is reviewing all elementary playground sites to determine fencing needs district-wide and to identify potential sources of funding for urgent needs.
  • Starting this school year, the AISD Police Department will dedicate six officers to patrol and monitor all  elementary schools in the city during the school day.
  • On Sept. 11, all AISD principals will receive additional training on  playground procedures as well as general safety and security protocols to  reinforce with staff. 
  • District-wide, we will provide additional professional development for principals that focuses on how to tighten procedures to ensure that all students are accounted for throughout the school day. The Physical Education Department will discuss playground safety procedures that will then be provided to the entire school staff.

As we begin to implement the 2013 Bond Program, I appreciate that voters approved Proposition 3, which will allow us to enhance safety at every one of our schools. But to fully support safety and security improvements, it will require more resources in the future, since voters did not approve Proposition 2, the promotion of safety and security measures, which included improved police communication systems and replacing video cameras.

As we move forward, I want to reassure all of our families that we will continue to be vigilant in our efforts to protect every child from harm.

--Meria Carstarphen

Want to know what's happening in Austin schools in 2013-2014? Superintendent Meria Carstarphen shares her insights on her blog. Click here to read more.