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La Vernia school community looks to lock doors and train, arm adults to keep kids safe

A school building with benches, doors, a sign that reads "La Vernia High School" and a flag pole flying the U.S. and Texas flags.
Camille Phillips
Texas Public Radio
La Vernia ISD's high school sits between the district's junior high and the district's auditorium and gymnasium.

Lee esta historia in español

La Vernia Independent School District recently held a school safety town hall to reassure parents and staff after the mass shooting in Uvalde.

La Vernia is a small town 30 miles east of San Antonio and seven miles from Sutherland Springs. The district serves about 3,400 students.

The school board approved aGuardian programto arm staff two weeks before the shooting at Robb Elementary that killed 19 children and two teachers.

According to district officials, a survey sent to staff and community members shows that 80% of staff and 88% of community members approve of the Guardian program.

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At the town hall, most parents asked about door locks and arming adults to keep kids safe. Several said they were worried the campuses were too accessible because some of the schools have multiple buildings.

Jeff Freitag’s two children transferred to La Vernia’s middle school this past spring, and he said the school is more open than he’s used to.

“It's an older school and older campus, and it's very spread out and open. There's limited fencing,” Freitag said. “It was very easy to just walk in and enter really any door, any classroom that you wanted to.”

La Vernia’s safety and security director, Michael Duffek, said all teachers are required to teach behind locked classroom doors.

A woman with gray hair and a yellow t-shirt with keys in a lanyard around her neck sits in an auditorium seat as people walk into the room.
Camille Phillips
Texas Public Radio
Lis Miksch is a retired English teacher who said she subs at La Vernia Junior High "almost every day of the year." She said she attended the school safety town hall to "back the school system."

Retired teacher Lisa Miksch, who regularly subs at La Vernia Junior High, also said teachers are careful to lock classroom doors. She said going forward she plans to be more careful about checking who is at the door before opening it.

But, like Freitag, Miksch said the layout of the school is a concern.

“It's hard to close every door of every building, because every one of our buildings, you walk outside and have to go into another building. And I think if we had hallways right there, that would help.”

Freitag suggested teachers have key cards that open external doors.

La Vernia Superintendent Hensley Cone told parents funding to secure buildings was a top priority for the district.

The mass shooting in Uvalde hit especially close to home for La Vernia — some of the victims of the Sutherland Springs church shooting attended La Vernia schools.

At the town hall, Duffek refrained from saying how many staff members had volunteered to take part in the Guardian program, or what campuses they worked at as a matter of security. He said the volunteers had undergone psychological evaluations and would be trained later this summer.

Both Freitag and Miksch said they were in favor of the program.

“I'm not opposed to it, but I do think it's something that they need to have active repeat training on,” Freitag said, adding that his wife is not a fan. “I don't think it's something that you train on once and then just let people enter the school and do this.”

“I think it's awesome,” said Miksch. “I think we need it. I grew up in West Texas and almost every school out there has it. There are some veteran teachers that were military veterans that would be capable of doing that. If a person says no they don't want to be one of those, well then that's fine too.”

A man with a beard in a ball cap, sunglasses, and a short-sleeved button down shirt stands in the parking lot outside La Vernia ISD's auditorium.
Camille Phillips
Texas Public Radio
William Markworth is the father of four La Vernia ISD students.

William Markworth has four kids at La Vernia ISD. He thinks the district should look into hiring retired veterans to further protect the schools.

“I'm definitely in favor of vetted trained teachers being armed. Nobody having a clue who they are. As long as they're having constant psych evals and everything else,” Markworth said.

Markworth said he supports the Guardian program and wants to hire vets as security guards because he believes a show of force makes a place less likely to be targeted.

According to the Texas Association of School Boards, at least 412 of Texas's 1,208 school districts have adopted policies that allow staff to volunteer to be armed. TASB Communications Director Joan Randall said TASB keeps a running tally of districts that voluntarily tell the association they've adopted one of the two policies allowed under Texas law. As of May 2022, at least 23 districts have Marshall Programs and 389 districts have Guardian Plans.

A recent survey conducted by the Texas chapter of the American Federation of Teachers found that76% of their members don’t want teachers to be armed.

Unlike Uvalde and most school districts in bigger Texas cities, La Vernia ISD does not have it’s own police department. The school district has one school resource officer under contract with the La Vernia Police Department and four “security monitors.” District officials said the city police department responds to their schools in less than a minute.

This story has been updated with new information from the Texas Association of School Boards.

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Camille Phillips can be reached at camille@tpr.org or on Instagram at camille.m.phillips. TPR was founded by and is supported by our community. If you value our commitment to the highest standards of responsible journalism and are able to do so, please consider making your gift of support today.