LUBBOCK, Texas – Students at Lubbock Independent School District (LISD) are set to head back to school on Wednesday, Aug. 16, and the kids and parents will likely notice some new additions to campus buildings.
“Lubbock ISD is doing everything possible within our power to ensure that our staff and our students are safe each and every day at school,” said Dr. Kathy Rollo, superintendent at LISD.
Nearly five years of hard work on safety improvements have finally paid off for LISD. Back in 2018, voters approved a $130 million bond for the district, $50 million of which was allotted to school security upgrades.
“Every school has a secure vestibule entrance, and all of our communication devices have been updated, so we can easily communicate within our buildings,” Rollo said. “We’ve practiced all of our protocols and are set. Our staff have all been through training over the last week, plus the summer training that they did around safety and security. We feel really good about where we are heading into the school year.”
As a response to the Uvalde mass shooting in 2022, Texas House Bill 3 (H.B. 3) was a safety measure passed this session that, starting Sept. 1, requires every school district in the state to have at least one armed officer on every campus.
“Unfortunately, we have two big challenges with that,” Rollo said. “One is there are not very many candidates out there. The second issue or concern is that we’re getting $15,000 per campus to meet that need, which, a salary for a police officer is obviously much more than that.”
Just days before school starts, LISD is about 20 officers short of meeting the bill’s demands.
“There’s not enough financial backing for it, so we got to worry about finding that part,” said Chief Ray Mendoza with the LISD Police Department. “Then, we got to find qualified and quality officers. We have to find somebody who is a dedicated officer, and somebody who’s willing to take a bullet before the kid.”
Frenship ISD (FISD) said it’s also having a problem fulfilling the requirement for armed officers.
“Schools and traditional policing are looking for police officers,” said Chief Roy Bassett with the FISD Police Department. “That’s true locally, that’s true across the state and that’s true across the country. We’re no different in that.”
Dr. Michelle McCord, the superintendent for FISD, estimated the district will receive around $400,000 of state funding for H.B. 3 mandates. While she’s grateful for the money, she said it doesn’t come close to the $4 million they spend each year to fully fund the district’s police department.
“There’s no higher priority than safety and security, however, it’s very expensive,” McCord said. “We’re making it happen. We are not going to cut corners, and we haven’t cut corners, but it’s a very difficult balancing act.”
FISD currently has 14 sworn officers and four unarmed security guards. In order to meet the bill’s guidelines, the distinct will need to hire three more armed officers. Currently, a few officers are patrolling more than one campus since some of the district’s schools are so close in proximity.
Also stemming from the Uvalde massacre, Gov. Greg Abbott ordered school safety officials to conduct “intruder detection audits” to test weaknesses at Texas schools.
Out of the 35 Lubbock ISD campuses audited during the 2022-23 school year, there were no issues found with the security of exterior doors. Three campuses were caught with doors open inside the school, which was only a violation because the district has a policy in place to lock all classroom doors.
“When students are in the building, the exterior doors are locked, and then when they get into their classrooms, the interior doors are locked,” Rollo said. “Anyone else who wants to come to the building has to be vetted. I think parents can feel confident that we take this seriously.”
Although there are still more police officers needed at LISD, Mendoza said the district is doing everything possible to protect its students in the meantime.
“We don’t just have police officers, we also have our safety and security team that goes in and does random door checks, and when they find an unsecured door, they’re going to close it,” Mendoza said. “We’re talking about our young students, and I want to make sure that when we hire an officer, he meets all the requirements, and he’s a quality officer that we can trust in our schools.”