At a time when the number of mass shootings in the U.S. this year has already outpaced the number of days, Arizona’s largest school district is doubling down on its security measures.
Mesa Public Schools is funneling more money toward student safety, thanks to the passing of a capital bond last November.
The $300 million bond allocated $167 million for campus facility improvements, covering security upgrades that include the installation of cameras at all schools and the remodeling of front offices.
“In this day and age, with all of the events happening around the country and the world, joking about a shooting of any kind is irresponsible,” said School Safety and Security Director Allen Moore.
As of Aug. 29, the 241st day of the year, there had been 273 mass shootings in the U.S., according to the nonprofit Gun Violence Archive.
Moore told the East Valley Tribune that all MPS classrooms will be locked during class time and that all security and school staff members received updated training on emergency management and active shooter protocols.
Cameras have been installed at all elementary schools and all schools now have perimeter fencing that creates only one point of entry.
“Some people ask, ‘How is a chain-link fence going to stop a bullet?’” said Moore. “It won’t, but it will slow the intruder down.”
So far, 10 schools have received front-office makeovers and the goal is to do the same at all other MPS schools at a cost of about $40,000 to $50,000 per campus.
The idea is to get a better grasp on “visitor management,” Moore explained, by creating a waiting room with electrical buzzard locks for people to sit in before entering a campus.
“We’re trying to beef up our front offices a bit,” said Moore. “If you go into a lot of schools, you typically see a big reception desk and multiple doors.”
“But if a receptionist is distracted,” he went on. “Someone can easily sneak by.”
Some of the elementary schools that had remodeling work done include Guerrero, Bush, Red Mountain Ranch, Porter, Washington, Sousa and Brinton.
MPS also will implement advanced training for students and staff members for active shooter and lockdown procedures.
Ballistic resistant window films will be added to glass windows, while blue alert beacons will alert staff, students and parents when schools are in lockdowns.
Since 2012, the security director said he now views his field in a “pre-Sandy Hook” and “post-Sandy Hook era.”
Moore said that the tragic massacre of Sandy Hook Elementary School students in Newton, Connecticut, forever changed his views on school security. A crazed 20-year-old in 2012 shot and killed 20 children between 6 and 7 years old and six adults.
“Pre-Sandy Hook, our focus was mainly junior highs and high schools,” he noted. “When you read about active shooters, it was usually former students who were getting bullied and seeking revenge.”
“We never really thought we would see a random act of violence at an elementary school,” he added. “It really rocked our world — we started shifting our focus to all schools.”
Before the Sandy Hook shooting, none of the MPS elementary schools had cameras or fencing.
The district also adopted a zero-tolerance policy a few years back, but has recently been hammering down on its approach.
At the beginning of each year, school resource officers now host assemblies to explain their zero-tolerance policy to the student body — all junior high schools and high schools have officers.
“Any statement or social media transmission perceived as a threat is reported to the Mesa Police Department,” explained Moore. “If they develop probable cause, we’re going to press charges.”
The director said that all social media posts, Snapchats or conversations will be considered in the policy.
“These kids don’t think sometimes — they think social media platforms are easier to hide behind,” said Moore. “I think sometimes they put it out there and then when they hit send it’s too late.”
Since cracking down on zero-tolerance, the district has seen fewer threats so far this year.
Moore said that MPS had seen “quite a few” threats in the last two years, but that things have “slowed down a bit” now.
Several threats have been reported for the 2018-2019 school year, with one taking place before classes started.
“A kid was talking about how he was going to a new school in a different district, and was upset because of the grades he got when he was going to a school in our district,” said Moore. “He said was going to go back to that school and shoot it up.”
A person who overheard the statement reported the kid to the police department within that jurisdiction, who later contacted Mesa Police.
Officers developed probable cause and charged the student with making a threat.
Moore said he advises all parents to monitor their children’s social media accounts, and to make sure that they understand how gravity of the topic at hand.
“Please talk to your kids about the seriousness about making some kind of a statement,” he said. “Even if it feels like a joke, it’s going to be investigated.”