LAS CRUCES – Schools in the Las Cruces district are required to have lockdown drills, but most have yet to conduct one, leaving some students feeling like they aren’t prepared if something was to happen.
In the first six weeks of the new year, there have been six high school shootings that happened during school hours and resulted in the physical injury of someone, according to Everytown, a nonprofit that advocates for gun control and against gun violence.
And since Dec. 2012, when the Sandy Hook school shooting took the lives of 26 people — including 20 first graders — there have been 239 school shootings nationwide, where 438 people were shot, resulting in 138 deaths, according to the Gun Violence Archive said.
There was even a school shooting in Aztec, New Mexico, where two students and the perpetrator were killed in Dec. 2017.
But still LCPS high school students say they have no clue what to do if there was an active shooter on their campus, and that’s because they don’t do drills for it.
“We’ve been told what to do in some classes, but not in every class,” said Klarysa Nunez, a sophomore at Mayfield High School.
Nunez added that it would depend where she was in the school — such as a traditional classroom where she would know what to do versus other locations like the gym or the cafeteria where she wouldn’t.
Mayfield has also had zero lockdown drills since the start of the school year, which Nunez said would be the first step in preparing students. She also recommended students receive clear guidelines on what to do, when and where.
Alex Garcia, a freshman at Centennial High School, said he, too, feels his school is lacking in preparing students for potential threats or risks.
Garcia said that he is bothered that the school doesn’t hold more drills because if students are not prepared it could cause more panic. He added the school could make a better effort in making students aware of possible situations and what to do.
Recent events have also made students at Centennial uneasy about attending school, he said.
“You can tell kids are nervous about (a potential threat),” Garcia said. “In class, everyone is talking about it.”
According to the LCPS Environmental and Safety Program, schools are required to have fire, evacuation and shelter-in-place drills throughout the school year, as well as two lockdown drills.
A lockdown is implemented in response to acts of violence, active shooter/killer, or police response to felony incidents, according to the program. It means the exterior and interior doors are locked, lights are off and students are to be out of sight and quiet.
But students at Centennial High School, Arrowhead Park Early College and Rio Grande Preparatory Institute have said they have not had any lockdown drills this school year. Students at Las Cruces High School said they have had one lockdown drill.
Todd Gregory, LCPS director of Public Safety, said the district recommends each school has a lockdown drill every semester, but they are not required. School administrators have discretion as to when those are held as long as it is done within the school year.
Students have now been in school roughly seven months this school year, and have two-and-a-half months remaining.
Gregory said it is the responsibility of the principal of each school to conduct the drills and the role of superintendent to keep the principals accountable. If the principal is not compliant, he said they could stand to lose their administrative/principal certification.
Employees of the district, particularly teachers, are also required by the district to take training courses to prepare in case of any emergency, Gregory said.
They have access to resources through the LCPS Operations Department to help improve on the carrying out of drills and are provided information in the 279-page New Mexico Public Education Department Planning for Safe Schools in New Mexico School Guide, he said.
And parents and students can read more in the Family and Student handbook.
The district’s Department of Public Safety was implemented in October, and Gregory said they are only responsible for instructing school administrations on how to carry out drills or to improve the ones they have. He said they are not responsible for keeping a record of the drills each school conducts but does request schools to send the records in to his department if they can.
Spree of threats
In the 10 days following the Margory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, Las Cruces police have responded to “several threats” to LCPS schools on social media.
Las Cruces High School was placed on lockdown twice in two days for possible threats made by students to the school.
The first threat was made Wednesday after a student posted on Snapchat a photo of himself holding a rifle and referencing “school shooter” in the text.
The LCHS student, Ernest Padilla, 18, was found to be in possession of a butterfly knife and brass knuckles on the school campus, and was later charged with one count of unlawful carrying a deadly weapon on school premises. No firearm was found on Padilla or in his vehicle, Las Cruces police said.
The second incident was a false alarm that put the school on lockdown midday Thursday.
A “rumor of a threat” had been reported, causing law enforcement to take precaution, police said at the time of the incident. The treat was not found to be credible and the lockdown was lifted.
Centennial High School also received a possible threat Wednesday evening after false information about a conversation among students spread on social media. Police determined the threat was not credible.
Centennial Principal Michael Montoya said in a Facebook post Thursday morning, “please know that we all take every threat seriously and will investigate every threat thoroughly. We will continue to be vigilant and take any precautionary measures to ensure the safety of our students, staff, and visitors.”
The school district, in a release, didn’t specify what threats had been lodged against which schools, but did state, “none of the threats have been deemed credible,” and noted all are being investigated.
Las Cruces is not the only city in New Mexico facing threats to high schools.
Since the Parkland shooting, threats have been reported in Santa Fe, Belen, Alamogordo, Farmington and Española. Most of the students who had made the threats have been arrested by local authorities and many have been charged.
On Friday, the Federal Bureau of Investigation charged two New Mexico men with using social media platforms to post school shootings threats. Sebastian Jarvison, 25, of Brimhall, and John Russell Williams, 19, of Farmington, have been charged with transmitting in interstate commerce communications containing threats to injure others.
According to Educator’s School Safety Network, since the Feb. 14 Parkland shooting, there have been 369 school-based incidents or threats in 47 states, where social media spread nearly 52 percent of those threats.
ESSN, a nonprofit that works to give educators a voice in critical school safety conversations, found that in the first half of the 2017-2018 school year — from August to December 2017 –there were more than 1,061 threats of violence, an average of 10.9 per day.
They also found that an average of one violent incident has occurred each day of the school year so far, nationwide.
LCPS Superintendent Greg Ewing sent out an email on Feb. 15, following the school shooting in Parkland, encouraging principals to remain “strong and vigilant.”
“It is imperative that your front office staff ensure that each individual sign in, have an educational need to be in the school building, show proper ID, and remain in secure areas of your school under the aegis of a faculty or staff member,” Ewing said in the email.
Ewing also asked schools to lock all side entrances during school hours, allowing for only one main entrance.
In a release sent out Friday, Ewing said that the safety of the children is the district’s greatest responsibility, and they are dedicated to their well-being.
“In the past few days, isolated threats on social media have led to increased worry in our community. I wish to assure you that the Las Cruces Public Schools shares your concerns,” he said.
And while most LCPS high schools have yet to have a lock down drill as of Thursday, Ewing said schools had “begun reviewing safety drills with faculty, staff, and students, as it is most important that all individuals feel safe and that learning continue as normal in all school buildings.”
The district has also been working to enhance security at every school.
In May, the LCPS school board OK’d an update that allows school security guards to carry concealed weapons, if authorized by the superintendent to do so.
The district also added an additional 10 school resource officers, who are uniformed officers, and a sergeant to patrol the district’s middle and high schools.
The SROs carry duty weapons like other police officers and also give presentations on topics such as drug and alcohol abuse and can refer students and families to resources in the community such as mental health clinics, according to the agreement.
“I’ve publicly said we don’t like any weapons in schools or bullets flying; we want to teach. But we have armed Todd (Gregory), and we have our armed SROs (School Resource Officers) in each building, and even in this building, we have an armed officer in with us now,” Ewing said at the time.
The district is also working to secure schools by implementing key cards that are required to access certain buildings.
Gregory said with the passing of the last school bond, he hopes to use some of the money to implement the key cards districtwide.
He added that schools are also working to have one main entrance and lobby area, as well as enclosing all playgrounds and courtyards with fencing or gates.
“We just want to keep the environment safe and a better place to learn,” Gregory said, adding that the district intends to do so even if it means adding extra physical measures.
Oñate High School Active Shooter training
What: ALICE — Alert, Lock down, Inform, Counter and Evacuate — training is a program designed to teach individuals on how to interrupt a violent intruder’s decision making cycles.
When: March 14 at 6 p.m.
Where: Oñate High School
Who: Parents, students, faculty and community members are invited
Gadsden Independent School District
Santa Teresa High School also had a recent threat scare.
On Tuesday, a student posted a photo on Snapchat of him posing with what appeared to be a large caliber pistol, which advised students not to go to school. The threat was later determined by Sunland Park police to not be credible, but Gadsden ISD Board of Trustees met Thursday to focus on district efforts to bolster security for all its schools, according to a press release Friday morning.
“We have focused our efforts to maintain a great relationship with local law enforcement from the Sunland Park Police Department to the Doña Ana Sheriff’s Office. Those officers continue to provide such a quick and effective response when our schools have an incident that require their assistance. And I can’t underscore the importance of the presence of Border Patrol in various areas of our district and resource they provide for our security,” said Superintendent Travis Dempsey.
Gadsden ISD high schools continue to maintain security guards to the entrance of their campuses and panic doors that are locked on the outside but can be opened from the inside, the release said. And all GISD elementary campuses have secured front entrances which require any visitor to use a buzzer before they are checked and cleared by front office personnel, it said.
“We are looking to continue to upgrade our security procedures and look for the cooperation of our students and our parents. Students are experts in the social media and as such are a great resource when they see or read something on the various social media platforms that require our attention,” Dempsey said.
The recent threats across the state and the country have people anxious, but the school district continues to ask community members to check on the district’s website for any information and for users of social media to refrain from sharing or reposting false information that can create unnecessary fear and the rapid spread of misinformation.
“Unfortunately, individuals have chosen to use the state of heightened tension in the wake the recent tragedy in Parkland, Florida in an attempt to spread fear and confusion locally and nationally,” LCPS Superintendent Ewing said. “We remain committed to ensuring the safety of our students and staff and we will continue to work with law enforcement to investigate any and all threats.”
Ali Linan can be reached at 575-541-5476, firstname.lastname@example.org or @Ail__Linan on Twitter.
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