Investigation Shows Some DISD Schools Skip Security Drills

NBC 5 investigation prompts district review of safety program and a warning to principals

The Dallas Independent School District promises changes after NBC 5 Investigates discovered some schools have not conducted security and fire drills as often as required.

"District documents obtained through an open records request show one school, John F. Kennedy Learning Center, conducted no security drills during the most recent semester.  The records showed Charles Rice Elementary also conducted no drills in the fall, but district officials later said they made a mistake in record keeping and Rice did in fact hold drills.

At another 32 schools the district is unable to say for certain if all of the required security drills happened in the fall. And, DISD is missing security drill records from about 40 schools from the spring 2012 semester.

District policy and state guidelines require two security drills each semester in addition to monthly fire drills.

At some Dallas schools, even fire drills are not happening as often as required. Records show 64 schools conducted fewer fire drills than required last year.

Lincoln High School reported holding only one fire drill last year. Woodrow Wilson High School and George Washington Carver Learning Center reported only two fire drills all school year. In Dallas, the city fire code requires schools to hold fire drills once a month when school is in session, typically nine months of the year.

DISD Police Chief Craig Miller said going forward his security staff will do more to ensure that all schools hold each required drill and record it.

“That's the key. Doing the drills is critical, but the paperwork side of it is also as important because we got to be able to document that they performed the drills,” said Miller.

School safety experts said frequent drills have been proven to make a difference in real life emergencies.

“We try to help schools understand that when you haven't drilled you become the disaster within the disaster," said Victoria Calder, director of the Texas School Safety Center, a non-profit organization funded by the state legislature to help train and advise Texas school districts.

In the past the Texas School Safety Center has recommended schools hold at least two security drills each semester, one where students remain locked down or sheltered-in-place in the building, and another where the building is evacuated.

Following the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., Calder said the safety center plans to recommend that schools conduct one security drill each month, which in some cases could even be a table top planning exercise for administrators and teachers.

“It's really where the rubber meets the road,” Calder said. “If you don't drill, in a real emergency we see this again and again -- it shows.”

After NBC 5 Investigates began questioning the Dallas school drill records, the district’s Chief of School Leadership sent a memo to all school principals reminding them of the district’s security and fire drill requirements.

“We need the assistance of principals to ensure that we are complying with state law, board policy and Dallas fire code regulations”, the memo says in part.

DISD administrators said the questions raised by NBC 5 have already helped make improvements.

“Now I feel a lot better. After what you guys have come forward and told us, that forced us to look at our records and record keeping, and to let us know how in compliance we are and those that aren’t," said Miller.

When DISD first provided documents to NBC the district’s drill log showed about 75 schools in the 2011-2012 school year had no security drill information on file.

After more than two weeks of checking, the district found most of the blank spaces in the records were schools that simply did not turn in paperwork. But the district also discovered some schools did not conduct all required drills.

With more than 220 schools in the district, the numbers show most schools are following the rules. But DISD School Board member Dan Micciche said the district must make sure each school performs every drill.

“We need 100 percent compliance, 100 percent of the time. No exceptions. No excuses,” said Micciche. “We need to have the administration regularly monitor that situation.”

Joette White, a parent of a DISD first grader, said she expects the drills to be performed regularly in all Dallas schools.

"I assume that they're doing what they're supposed to be doing," said White. "I try to trust that they're responsible and they're going to do everything that they can to ensure my child is safe."

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