Some Arlington, Fort Worth Schools Miss Required Safety Drills

Districts promise change, better compliance after NBC 5 investigation

The Fort Worth and Arlington independent school districts are reviewing their emergency procedures after an NBC 5 Investigates learned some schools had been missing required safety drills.

Lamar High School in Arlington had a security situation involving a report of a gun on campus that put the school on lockdown Jan. 15.  Through an open records request, AISD documents revealed the school hadn’t conducted any lockdown drills this school year in the four and a half months before the January incident.  Lamar's first drill of the school year was actually scheduled for the same day the gun scare happened. 

“They did have a real incident.  Fortunately staff at the school was great, was responsive,” said AISD spokeswoman, Amy Casas.

A directive issued to Arlington principals at the beginning of the school year said two lockdown drills needed to be completed during the first 12 weeks of school, but records show 13 Arlington schools held only one lockdown drill in that time frame.

Lamar had none.

“I think it's just the fact that there's a lot going on at a large high school.  I don't think it was necessarily the staff doesn't see security as something that's important for them to do at that campus,” said Casas.

State guidelines recommend two security drills every semester.

“You don't want to be the school that hasn't planned and trained to the plan and drilled to the plan because lives are dependent on everyone knowing what to do,” said Victoria Calder, director of the Texas School Safety Center.  

The center plans to update its guidelines and recommend schools hold a security drill once a month.

NBC 5 Investigates also found schools missing drills in Fort Worth. 

Records obtained by NBC 5 Investigates show the district is not certain if 34 Fort Worth ISD schools conducted all required fire drills in fall.  Another 23 schools did not turn in paperwork showing whether tornado drills were conducted.

The records show Morningside Middle School did not practice a lockdown drill this fall or hold any fire drills in the first semester either.  Schools are supposed to conduct a fire drill once a month.

“We have been talking with that principal and that principal now understands that has to be done,” said FWISD spokesman, Clint Bond.

At Jo Kelly School, the Fort Worth school district can’t say if a lockdown drill happened this fall.  Drill records were not turned in to the district to report the drill.

Going forward, FWISD said they’ll be holding the principals accountable for missed drills and missing records. 

Fort Worth has built a high tech command center to spot trouble and manage a crisis and the district created an online video teaching emergency plans.

Experts told NBC 5 Investigates any school plan is only as good as how often you practice before the real thing.

“A lot of those plans look good on paper, but when you drill it, it doesn't translate into real action,” said Calder.

The Dallas Independent School District recently put out a stern reminder to principals after NBC 5 Investigates first reported 64 Dallas schools did not conduct the number of required fire drills last year.

One Dallas school held no security drills this fall and drill records are missing at more than 30 schools.

The district promises to keep a closer watch.

“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 DISD Police Chief Craig Miller.

NBC 5 Investigates also obtained records from the Irving Independent School District.  All Irving schools did one lockdown drill and one shelter-in-place drill during the 2011-12 school year, but there were five schools that skipped at least one fire drill. 

In a statement to NBC 5 Investigates, Irving ISD states, “Beginning immediately, the district's internal auditor will now begin inspecting Fire Drill Reports to ensure compliance."

The superintendent has also ordered the security department to start keeping track of all drills each month to make sure they happen.

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