Panelists (from left to right) Jeffrey Yarbrough, Michele Gay, Antoinette King and Bryan Krause spoke about security and technology at TCEA.

Feb 06 2024

TCEA 2024: Physical Safety in Schools Requires Stakeholder Collaboration

Education security and technology experts discuss the relationships necessary to keep K–12 students safe.

Safety is imperative in conversations today about K–12 education. Schools are looking for the best ways to protect staff and students from on-campus incidents. At the TCEA convention and exposition in Austin, Texas, presenters additionally took into consideration laws the state has put in place around school safety.

For example, in May, Texas adopted two new rules that require “all public school system instructional facilities have access points that are secured by design, maintained to operate as intended, and appropriately monitored,” according to the Texas Education Agency website.

Furthermore, Gov. Greg Abbott signed House Bill 3 into law last June. This legislation requires schools to develop active-shooter plans, provide mental health training for certain staff members and have an armed guard present during school hours. It also allocates funds for schools to install silent panic buttons in classrooms.

In a Sunday panel, “Bridging the Intersection between Technology and School Safety,” speakers didn’t go into detail on recent Texas laws, but instead talked at length about the various relationships necessary for making school safety a reality for many K–12 organizations.

Click the banner to find safety and technology resources for your K–12 school.

Crossover Between School Safety and Technology Teams

The most prominently discussed relationship in Sunday’s panel was the crossover between safety and technology. The session featured a mix of safety and technology experts, with a panel that included Jeffrey Yarbrough, chief of police for the city of Hutto, Texas; Michele Gay, founder and executive director of Safe and Sound Schools, who lost her daughter at Sandy Hook School in 2012; Antoinette King, author of The Digital Citizen’s Guide to Cybersecurity; and Bryan Krause, CDW•G education strategist.

They noted that the relationship between safety professionals and IT teams hasn’t always existed as it does today.

“The way that we circumvented having to deal with IT — because IT was always the roadblock back when it was a limited number of IP addresses — was we would microsegment the network and create our own, so we only needed one IP address,” King said of her early experiences working in physical security. “We built this whole shadow IT dark web and internal network. Unfortunately, we created this us-against-them mentality.”

Today, technology is vital to modern school safety. There are technologies for physical security, prevention and student mental health. And, of course, cybersecurity plays a large role in keeping students safe.

DIVE DEEPER: Build up your school’s four pillars of physical safety.

“As you start to build up these technologies, you have to think — whenever you’re putting more cameras in or putting breach sensors on your fences — all these things are being put on the network,” said King. “Those devices have to be secured and implemented with the idea that somebody could use it against the district.”

She explained how someone with ill intentions could use unsecured tech to their advantage: “If we don’t have secure network devices, then we might as well leave the doors unlocked. If you do go into lockdown, and somebody has access to your access control system, guess what? You’re not locked down anymore.”

For this reason, security stakeholders need to work closely with the IT department to devise and implement a plan that keeps staff and students safe, both physically and online.

“Information is crucial,” said Krause. “Be able to communicate within the school district, to the outside world, and to your student body and parents. The onus, a lot of times, does fall on IT. Think through how you’ll communicate without having cellphones or access to your network.”

Integration of Local Law Enforcement into School Campuses

Sunday’s physical safety panelists also talked about the necessity of building a relationship between local law enforcement and schools.

“You cannot police 6th grade the same way you police 6th street,” said Yarbrough. He explained that the officers working in schools get to know the students and school operations, making the district safer through a level of familiarity that other officers in the department wouldn’t have.

KEEP READING: Break down silos to promote security measures in schools.

This also helps first responders become familiar with the layout of the school. “Seconds absolutely matter,” said Krause.

The best way to improve communication and response times is by practicing drills and tabletop exercises.

“The sheriff’s office wanted to have a lockdown drill at the school with the staff,” Krause said of his time as principal of Platte Canyon High School. He relented, despite the staff being busy preparing for the arrival of that year’s students. This prepared the staff and the sheriff’s office for the day a violent individual held a classroom hostage that fall. “SWAT responded right away,” Krause said. “They knew exactly where to go and exactly what to do.”

To ensure you don’t miss a moment of TCEA event coverage, keep this page bookmarked and follow @EdTech_K12 on X (formerly Twitter) for live updates and behind-the-scenes looks.

Photograph by Rebecca Torchia
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