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Superintendent Carstarphen: How AISD Works to Ensure Gun Free Zones; Prevention and Security for Student and Staff Safety

Dear AISD Colleagues and Community:
Experts report that school- and college-age kids are not only safer but far more secure on school campuses than anywhere else. Still, I know that I am struggling in the wake of the recent tragedy at Lanier High School. Adults and students alike are trying to understand why it happened and, more importantly, how it can be prevented. 
In my own search for answers, I want to bring clarity to our families about what we in AISD do to prevent guns or other weapons from getting onto an AISD campus and the steps we are taking to ensure that our schools are safe places. Expectations for prevention are based in state statute and district policies, then reinforced by safety measures and student supports in schools.
State law prohibits students from bringing firearms to school. Chapter 37 of the Texas Education Code requires districts to expel a student who brings a firearm to campus. The AISD Student Code of Conduct, which students and their families are required to acknowledge through their signatures, states that weapons, such as knives and firearms, are strictly prohibited on school grounds.
The AISD Code of Conduct is one of the first steps in bringing awareness to our families. We also post signs prominently on school grounds (See photo). And, through the presence of school resource officers at all middle and high schools, we have and will continue to respond to violations of the policy to the full extent of the law. 
In AISD, situations that threaten student safety and security are never acceptable. As we move forward, I would like to reassure all of our families that we will continue to be vigilant in our efforts to protect every child from harm, and that we will continue to explore new options for increasing security protocols as needed.  This year, we've taken these steps to increase our campus safety:
  • At the start of the school year, all principals received specialized training on safety and security protocols and were asked to reinforce those protocols with staff.  
  • District wide, we have provided additional professional development opportunities for principals that focus on how to tighten procedures to ensure that all students are accounted for throughout the day.
  • This fall we also made improvements to exterior play spaces at the elementary schools to further safeguard our students.
  • Beginning this year, the AISD police department dedicated six officers to patrol and monitor all elementary schools in the city during the school day – an increase over previous years – to complement the 75 officers serving our middle and high schools and the district.
Our district is focused on preventing incidents that can have a harmful effect on our students. This includes, but is not limited to, these measures:
  • Daily Police Presence at Our Secondary Schools:  The AISD Police Department is a recognized law enforcement agency established to create a safe and secure environment for our students and staff.
  • Student Code of Conduct:  At the start of every school year, each student and his/her family is provided with a copy of the AISD Code of Conduct, which outlines the district's expectations of its students, defines misconduct and clearly identifies consequences.
  • Social and Emotional Learning:  SEL is the process through which children and adults acquire the knowledge, attitudes, and skills they need to recognize and manage their emotions, demonstrate caring and concern for others, establish positive relationships, make responsible decisions, and handle challenging situations constructively. SEL  started in 2011 with 27 schools, is in 73 schools this year, and it’s our goal, in two more years, to have it in all schools at every grade level.
  • Child Study System:  This multi-tiered, integrated approach provides learning support services to students and families to improve behavior, academic and attendance needs of all students.
  • Behavioral Health: There are family focused programs to combat substance abuse and addiction, to provide supports for mental illness and psychological distress, and to prevent self-harm and suicide.
  • Guidance and Counseling: Every AISD school campus is staffed with clinically licensed counselors who are trained to provide support for students throughout the school day.
  • No Place for Hate™ Initiative: AISD is in partnership with the Anti-Defamation League to support a national movement that provides educators and students with resources to ensure an anti-bias and diverse education are an integral part of the school curriculum. More than 100 AISD schools earned No Place for Hate™ designation during the 2012-13 school year, and all schools in AISD are expected to earn this designation by the end of this school year.
According to the FBI's yearly uniform crime report and Austin Police Department, in 2012, the number of violent crimes in Austin was very low compared to other major cities – ranking Austin the second safest city in the nation. Thankfully, Austin is a community that keeps guns off the streets and out of the hands of children, which is a large part of the battle that some school districts can face.
Even though we are fortunate to live in one of the safest cities in the country, I am sometimes asked why our district does not have metal detectors in our secondary schools. As background, the National School Safety and Security Services reports that the majority of schools in the United States do not use metal detectors on a day-to-day basis.  When I started in AISD, and to this day, the district’s position has been that prevention and relationship building are the best strategies to protect our students. Our first and best line of defense against school violence is a well-trained, highly-alert school staff and student body. The most common way we find out about weapons in schools is when students report such information to adults with whom they have trusted relationships.
I want families to feel secure in knowing that, for our district, safety is the number one priority, and I am dedicated to ensuring the safety and security of every student and staff member in our district.
Meria Carstarphen

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