Local superintendents talk school safetyFree Access

Rebecca Pesqueda

Staff Writer

Three Atascosa County Independent School Districts – Jourdanton, Poteet and Charlotte – have had potential shooting threats in the past month. Two of those from Jourdanton and Charlotte ended in arrests with Third Degree Felony charges filed against the students alleged to be responsible. In an effort to inform the public on how Atascosa County ISD’s are prepared for a potential threat in our schools, the Pleasanton Express spoke to local school and law enforcement officials. The meetings included Pleasanton ISD Superintendent Dr. Matthew Mann, Pleasanton ISD Chief of Police Humberto Torralba, Poteet ISD Interim Superintendent Melinda Salinas, Jourdanton ISD Superintendent Theresa McAllister, Jourdanton PD Chief Eric Kaiser, Charlotte ISD Counselor Terrel Harris and a couple of Pleasanton ISD students.

On the morning of Wednesday, February 28, Poteet ISD released a statement on their Facebook page stating a Poteet High School student received a threatening text message from a phone number that was determined by law enforcement to be a spam number. Poteet HS implemented their crisis plan immediately. All students and staff remained safe during the lock down which was lifted once it was determined there was no longer a threat.

On the topic of school safety and procedures, Poteet Interim Superintendent Dr. Melinda Salinas stated, “School safety has and always will be a top priority for all of Poteet ISD. All of our campuses practice fire drills, lock down drills, lock out drills and active shooter drills. Our district police provide training to all staff at the beginning of each school year. [Last] week Poteet HS conducted grade level safety meetings to address social media, visitors on campus, electronic devices and to stress the importance of reporting ALL concerns to staff immediately.” Salinas also spoke about the positive and negative impact technology and social media have in such a situation when it comes to the school’s communication protocols, “A perfect example is what happened [that] Wednesday – a student received a threatening text from a spam phone number and instead of reporting it immediately to a teacher or administrator, they posted it to their social media account. The incident did allow Poteet ISD to implement our crisis plans and communication plans.” Salinas further stated the district has reflected on the events of that Wednesday and have made adjustments where necessary so they can be even more prepared – in the event they have another crisis situation.

A couple of days prior to the Poteet ISD situation, Jourdanton PD arrested a JISD student for making terroristic threats to shoot up the school. While conducting a search of the student’s residence, parents voluntarily turned over the gun the student threatened to use. JISD Superintendent Theresa McAllister stated, “JISD and JPD continue to review and plan for all emergencies that may arise at Jourdanton ISD or the surrounding area. The first priority is the safety of each one of our students and staff.” Monday, February 26, a Guardian Security Solutions’ representative conducted an audit of the entrances throughout the district and will provide an estimate to begin installing controlled access points into all major doorways and a plan to install at every location through a phase process. The following day, McAllister interviewed an applicant for the SRO (school resource officer) position. Officer Patrick Sweat was given the job and will begin working on March 19. He will be a friendly face seen on all three JISD campuses.

“Our ISD partners with the Jourdanton Police Department to provide a law enforcement presence on JISD campuses. The officers you see working at JISD are city police with school assignments,” said JPD Chief Eric Kaiser. “School safety is on everyone’s mind and there isn’t a parent in Texas that doesn’t want to know what steps their school is taking to protect our children. It’s understandable. I’m a parent and I know that I want MY kids to be safe.” In October 2017 JPD hosted a 40 hour course that was sponsored by the NRA called “National School Shield” which teaches officers and school staff how to do a comprehensive school safety assessment. While this course has been taught in various areas around the nation, Jourdanton was the first city and school district to bring this valuable training to Texas.

Pleasanton ISD recently welcomed in a new police chief on campus in January, Humberto Torralba II. “We not only look at the weather, but we look at everything from the overall security to a crack in the sidewalk. We try to make sure everything is up to par where everybody is secure. That’s part of my job; I walk around the campuses, not for police purposes but actually for security purposes.” Chief Torralba has served the State of Texas for 25 years, most recently with Eagle Pass Police Department for 23 years. You can visit the PISD Police Department page on their website for more on Torralba’s background.

“One of the first things I did as Chief of Police here and that I bring from my experience, is that you need to have open resources,” said Torralba. “I have had so many lunches with most of the chiefs of police and anybody who has anything to do with law enforcement. I’ve even met with the fire chief.” Torralba mentioned how he and Pleasanton PD Chief Ronald Sanchez are in constant communication about everything going on in the community that might affect any of the campuses. He said Officer Lozano and himself have a panic button available in their police cars that once hit, will signal the nearest five officers in the area to help out.

Chief Torralba and Dr. Mann also explained the close relationship they each have with the principals on each campus and how they communicate openly and effectively with one another to meet the needs of each campus, including future safety briefings. “I think getting the principals involved is very important, they know what their campuses have and what they need,” said Torralba. “I explained to them that I not only want to get them on board to do a law enforcement briefing but also the local law enforcement agencies such as the chiefs of police, the sheriff and the hospital director to do a little talk on what we would do should a situation occur.”

“We’ve enjoyed having these conversations and working through some of the anxiousness with the principals,” said Dr. Mann, “We constantly talk to students about that too and their concerns and how they feel. Our parents are really good about asking specific questions. We’re very, very aware of it.”

PISD sophomore, Marquise Guerrero commented on how he feels about going to school now after the recent threats in the county, “It makes me think something is going to happen here next since it’s happened in the other schools, but I try to not think about it as much. I just go to school and hope nothing will happen.”

His sister, 8th grader Keanna Guerrero said she was terrified after the Jourdanton and Poteet situations, “I told my mom I didn’t want to go to school because I was scared someone would actually shoot and not just make threats. But I’m glad I go to Pleasanton because this school is real good about keeping us safe.”

Dr. Mann explained the district has found needs assessments on the buildings around campus and they are constantly trying to upgrade those. In regards to PISD being prepared for an active shooter or threatening situation, Dr. Mann said, “With the plan itself and the practices we do, I am very confident. We’re cautiously confident in that we are cautious about what’s happening around us, but we’re confident in the plan we have. We practice our drills, we do a monthly evacuation for fires, we do lock down drills and shelter in place. We’re mindful of lots of situations. We’re also very excited about having the elementary school up here with the rest of the campuses. It makes monitoring and keeping our resources tighter, which I am very excited about. We cannot overstate the importance of the relationship between Pleasanton PD and the school district. They have been phenomenal.”

On Thursday, March 1, Atascosa County Sheriff’s Office arrested a 13 year old Charlotte middle schooler for allegedly making threats to shoot up the school. In addition to being charged with Terroristic Threats, the student was also arrested on a separate charge of Aggravated Assault with a Deadly Weapon for pulling a knife on another student back in January. One week later, on March 8, Charlotte ISD posted on their Facebook page a letter Superintendent Mario Sotelo would be sending out to parents regarding the situation. In the letter, Sotelo stated, “As many of you saw in the March 7 edition of the Pleasanton Express, there has been a situation with a student of the district and concerns with terroristic threats and a separate possible assault with a deadly weapon.” The Pleasanton Express article was the first formal communication parents heard of the situation. However, in attempt to contact him on numerous occasions, Sotelo never got back to the Pleasanton Express on behalf of Charlotte ISD about school safety procedures in place for the students and staff. However, Charlotte High School Counselor, Terrel Harris made some comments regarding the students at the school.

“I have not had any students come to me concerned about any of the ongoing situations. We have had some students ask if we will have armed teachers or security at some time, but no one has felt threatened,” said Harris. “Students are more aware of their surroundings and they make sure they know what to do if we have any issues on campus. The DPS office, Atascosa County Sheriff’s Office and other community organizations have offered presentations to supplement our emergency plan.”

When it comes to communicating to the public and parents about a situation going on at the moment, the school districts’ and law enforcement’s top priority is securing the threat and making sure everyone is safe before releasing any information. Once the threat is secured, parents will be notified in various ways: calling, texting, emailing, social media and mailing letters out. Pleasanton, Jourdanton and Poteet ISD along with our local law enforcements in place are doing everything they can to protect our students and staff and it doesn’t stop once they fix their current kinks in safety measures. It is an ongoing plan that helps improve the security of our campuses.

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