Santa Fe has covered ground, but still has further to go down the road of recovery upon the one-year anniversary of the tragic events of May 18, 2018, in which eight students and two teachers lost their lives during a school shooting. One year later, the investigation remains active and the alleged shooter has yet to be tried in court. A May 10 court date to announce where the trial would be moved after a motion for a change of venue was granted was rescheduled for June 21.
During the year following the tragedy, the Santa Fe Independent School District has made numerous changes. Swiftly adopted initial measures in the immediate aftermath following the incident focused on hardening security, such as the installation of metal detectors at the high school and junior high and upgrading windows to bullet-proof glass. Santa Fe ISD Board of Trustees President J. R. “Rusty” Norman said these types of structural renovations are largely complete, allowing the district to focus on mental health resources for students, adding four new wellness counselors at the high school following the receival of a grant, bringing the total number of counselors available to the students of Santa Fe High School to eight.
“These are licensed professional counselors to provide mental health support. In addition to that, Region 4 (our educational service center), has four additional wellness counselors that serve our junior high and both elementary campuses, so we have, actually, licensed professional counseling now on every campus,” Jackie Shuman, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, said, adding that the district considered it to be important that mental health professionals be available to students at school after the events of last year.
“That was the reason that we received a grant to add those licensed professional counselors, our wellness counselors, to the district, because we knew that there were going to be emotional needs and mental health needs to be addressed as a result of the event on May 18, and so we wanted our students to have full access to get the support that they needed on campus,” Shuman said.
With changes in reporting mechanisms, Shuman said it was difficult to gauge any rise or fall in bullying behavior since the shooting, but that advocacy and improvements in the 10-year-old Tribal Tips program have made students more comfortable with reporting incidents.
“We have been proactive about encouraging students if you see something, say something,” Shuman said.
“This is the first year we added the QR reader where students can take their smartphone, walk past the posters and access it that way,” Santa Fe ISD Police Chief Walter Braun said as he explained the latest improvement to the Tribal Tips service.
Santa Fe High School Principal Rachel Blundell said teachers are also trained to recognize when a student may be suffering from mental health or emotional problems.
“Our teachers are trained on how to report it and the processes for it, and our tracking sheet shows exactly who reported it. Did the student self-report, or did the teacher bring it up? And so we have systems for that,” Blundell said.
Shuman said recognizing when help is needed and providing it comes naturally to those who pursue a career in education.
“Whenever a teacher sees a concern, I mean, that’s what we do as a team, is work as a team to help that student,” Shuman said.
The events of May 18, 2018, have made school safety a topic of discussion in the current session of the Texas Legislature. Senate Bill 11, entitled “A Bill to Strengthen School Safety” and authored by State Sen. Larry Taylor, chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Violence in Schools and School Security and whose district includes both Alvin and Santa Fe, passed the state senate nearly unanimously April 29, with a vote of 29-2. Among its many provisions are a grant program for districts that wish to upgrade their facilities to provide better security, requires that schools provide emergency training for teachers and measures that aim to provide more mental health resources for students across Texas. Both Norman and Santa Fe ISD Superintendent Leigh Wall have been to Austin to testify during the current legislative session.
Norman said the actions that had to be taken by the district as a result of the tragedy had a significant financial impact on the district. Soon after the tragedy, Norman said openly during a packed school board meeting that the district did not know how it would be able to fund and maintain the new changes in the long term. On Wednesday, Norman said the high school has also been impacted by a reduction in the amount of space that can be used for classroom instruction, as the art rooms where the shooting took place remain closed with no plans to return students to them. Discussions are ongoing as to how to utilize the space in the future.
Norman said decisions made at the state level will have a large impact on the future of Santa Fe ISD. He explained the district worked closely with the state in requesting help in grants for implementing some of the new measures due to Santa Fe ISD’s unique situation, requiring the district to take a proactive approach to ensure the community and parents feel that students are safe. Things must also anticipate the long run, however, Norman said.
“We have subsequently told them that based on what we get, we will have to prioritize and make some determinations on what we can continue to do in the areas of safety and security, and the counseling, and our overall academics, our extracurricular activities, all things could basically be impacted down the road when it comes to safety and security and financing because of the school funding,” Norman said.
Blundell said students are coping at Santa Fe High School. Though initially a constant reminder for some of the shooting, she said the metal detectors have become accepted as normal and many students express that they make them feel safer despite the inconvenience. She said both staff and students have been “very driven to recover.” The student council became involved very early in the year, she said.
“They got involved in making sure that even from the very beginning we had the crazy dress-up days that kids normally have, and we had a carnival to start with and they’ve done a remarkable job of recovering,” Blundell said, adding that Santa Fe High School has also seen great academic and athletic achievements during the past school year, with more teams making playoffs, more choir members competing at state level and a student qualifying for the state level of the Visual Arts Scholastic Event (VASE) art competition.
“We are on the road to recovery. We’re not finished. We won’t be for quite some time, but I believe that we have some very good examples this year of how to move forward and kids have been a part of that,” Blundell said.