TAOS — Taos Municipal Schools was already working on a plan to increase campus security and take a more proactive approach to potential threats when a cross-country runner was stabbed this week in front of Taos High School.
The attack Monday afternoon raised awareness of a need to also boost security after school hours.
Interim Superintendent Valerie Trujillo noted the district’s “cameras had been upgraded, so that allowed us to see the event, which helps the investigation. But this was an after-school event, unfortunately, at the end of the day when 700 students are going home and parents are coming in to pick them up.”
Meanwhile, many items on a long list of planned security upgrades have either been purchased or are in the process of being purchased. Among them are “lockdown buckets” containing emergency supplies.
With the uncertainty surrounding any school lockdowns, which often are short but could extend for hours, the contents of the 5-gallon bucket are intended to save lives in an emergency as well as offer some comfort. They include duct tape to seal doors and windows in case of a chemical spill on or near a school campus; first aid kits, surgical gloves and compresses to stop bleeding; safety goggles and a pry bar; flashlights, glow sticks and a whistle; rehydration pouches, a radio and blankets; biohazard bags, toilet paper and sanitary wipes. Each bucket comes with a snap-on toilet seat.
So far, 250 of the lockdown buckets have been distributed districtwide.
Much larger “family reunification kits,” which resemble a pickup’s toolbox, contain orange safety vests, ID tags, clipboards and class rosters to aid in accounting for students after an evacuation and to assist students and staff in reaching a reunification point safely.
“They haven’t come in yet, but also every office and classroom will have a grab-and-go backpack a teacher could grab in a fire drill or in case they had to evacuate the building,” Trujillo said.
“Communication is key,” Trujillo said, noting all district staff now carry walkie-talkies.
The district hopes to have at least two easily accessible portable defibrillators in each school building, is planning to stock bullhorns and already has naloxone, the opiate overdose-reversal drug, readily available at campuses.
Other items the district is in the process of purchasing include “ready access door” systems, which will allow a school employee whose job is dedicated to campus security and surveillance to “buzz people in after they identify who the person is,” Trujillo said.
“And once they’re in the building, someone like [administrative assistant] Linda Sanchez here in this building, for example, would then run their driver’s license through a system called Raptor,” Trujillo added.
“It basically runs a National Crime Information Center check,” said Marcos Herrera, the district’s new safety coordinator. Herrera is also a lieutenant in the New Mexico Mounted Patrol, an all-volunteer state law enforcement agency that dates to the territorial era.
Herrera said the district has 19 new surveillance cameras to install, adding to the 50 cameras already installed at Ranchos Elementary School; 63 cameras at Enos Garcia Elementary School; 135 cameras at Taos High; and
156 cameras at Taos Middle School. Administrators like Trujillo and Herrera can watch live camera feeds on their computers and mobile devices.
“I can access every camera in the district right now on my phone,” Trujillo said, adding “the simple things,” like staying on top of basic window, door and lock maintenance, are equally important.
Students and staff across the district are encouraged to always close doors behind them and to close any open doors they happen to find.
The district also received a demonstration this week of a gunshot detection system developed by the U.S. Department of Energy.
“This amazing technology has driven the security industry to new territory by combining both indoor and outdoor gunshot detection on the same technology platform,” Trujillo told the school board last month. “If it’s detected, the doors immediately shut. It uses advanced algorithms to analyze firearm discharge — it can actually identify between, let’s say, .22 or a semi-automatic rifle. Another thing we’re implementing is the Rave Panic Button app,” which is free.
Trujillo said the district also will adopt the STOPit app, an anonymous reporting system for students and staff.
“It’s basically self-reporting,” Trujillo said. “If there’s a student feeling like they need to report self-harm or any type of suicidal ideation” or a fellow student who is threatening to bring a weapon to school, “this is an anonymous way to report it.”
Trujillo and Herrera said repeated risk assessments at each school campus have included recommendations for proactive behavioral measures to prevent incidents from occurring.
“We’re a nonpunitive behavioral management system at Taos schools,” Herrera said. “I’m trying to get kids back into the classroom by getting them what they need rather than through school suspensions.”
The district is lowering the intensity of interactions between students and “attendance success coaches,” who use less punitive methods than truant officers in decades past, Herrera said.
“We’re looking at everything when it comes to risk assessment,” he said. “It may be a faulty door that needs to be fixed, or anything to do with property, but also social emotional learning stuff — like trying to find ways to help kids before we get to that point where a student feels driven to commit violence or self-harm.”
Trujillo said the district will hold an active shooter drill at a school campus in the coming weeks. If there is an actual active shooter or other threat to school safety, she said, the district has partnered with Kit Carson Electric Cooperative to issue text alerts to the community.
“This last situation we had, I contacted [Kit Carson spokesman] Michael Santistevan and he sent it out to everyone,” Trujillo said, referring to an incident Aug. 19 in which a social media post included a threatening message targeting district schools.