Ever since 21 people, including 19 children, were killed at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde on May 24, Abilene ISD Director of Safety and Security Tony Lassetter has spent hours thinking about the best ways to keep students and employees in district facilities safe.
Using guidance from the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and his expertise, Lassetter and the district’s Coordinator of Safety and Security, Dan Cottner, spent the summer putting together a safety plan for each campus and facility throughout the district.
Like many in the district, Lassetter, who joined the AISD last October after a long and distinguished career with the Abilene Police Department, has been asked more than once by members of the public if their child is safe at their school. He has also been asked frequently what the AISD is doing to enhance safety and security measures in each of its facilities. He recently sat down for a question-and-answer session and took those issues head-on:
Q: The shooting in Uvalde seems to be the tipping point for a lot of what is going on throughout Texas and the rest of the nation in terms of school safety and security, even though we’ve had many of these horrible situations in the past. Why do think that’s so?
Lassetter: “This situation has everyone’s attention. We’re four hours from Uvalde, and just the response of the police was faulty. All of that, I think, has made it all very newsworthy. The misrepresentation of news that came out from our governor (Greg Abbott) – through no fault of his own as we later learned – got out to the nation and that has focused a lot on the police response and the reporting of it, and that’s magnified it even more. Then you couple it with 19 students and two adults, and that gets everyone’s attention. When you think about Sandy Hook in Connecticut in 2012, you think that’s so far away it’s almost like in another country. But here we’re four hours from Uvalde; it’s right here in our backyard, and it was Texas peace officers that responded who failed that community.”
Q: When you talk to your former colleagues within the Abilene Police Department or other school safety officers throughout the state and country, what are they telling you in terms of what they’re hearing about what’s happening to try and make schools safer?
Lassetter: “My colleagues are all on the same page as the community because now the gloves have come off. The gloves have come off and this is real, this in our face, and this is a priority for everyone now. The positive thing that’s happening now because of Uvalde is that it’s not just police thinking about safety and security, it’s everybody now thinking along those lines. I spoke to a group of parents recently, and they were engaged. It’s no longer ‘could it happen here,’ it’s now ‘what are we doing to make sure it doesn’t happen here?’ That’s coming from every school board and every superintendent. It’s really sparked an urgency – no matter how much money it costs – that we need to do this, this, this, and this, and we need to get it done yesterday. We’ve got a microscope on us, but it’s good because now we’re getting the support that we need to really make a difference in providing the safety and security that we need in our schools.”
Q: When you were hired, you were tasked with the safety and security of the campuses, and that doesn’t change from day to day. But considering what’s happened in the last six months, did you feel the pressure on that increase, whether it be internally or from AISD administrators?
Lassetter: “No doubt. (AISD Superintendent) Dr. (David) Young has always been very supportive of safety and security. I knew he took it seriously because when he would see me in the hallway, he would ask what I was doing for lunch, and we’d go, and we would talk about safety and security. But it’s not just him; it seems everyone is very responsive. I can call facilities and tell them we’ve got a gate issue somewhere and they’re on it.”
Q: How did the plans for what you wanted to implement and do change?
Lassetter: “I don’t think there’s been a change. I came in with the attitude that the AISD had a good safety and security plan already because I had worked with them for 15 years when I was with the Abilene Police Department. I knew I would need to make some evaluations, and I used what’s known as ‘The 10 Essential Actions to Improve School Safety and Prevent Mass Casualty Attacks.’ I used that to do an internal audit to find out where we were on those 10 essential actions. Nothing I wanted to implement has changed. I’m still on that same course. But the state of Texas came in over the summer and put out some mandates that slowed that process to ensure we got the basics done.”
Q: Have you been happy with the response from those on and off campus in the way they’ve responded to what you’re doing and saying to them?
Lassetter: “Very much so. I’m speaking to the choir because the folks that work in the schools know it. They’re asking what they need to do, and I’ve had great cooperation from the AISD administration and the principals and administrators on campus. They’re all asking what they need to do and where we need to go.”