Monday May 21 was a day most parents in the Huffman Independent School District will always remember. A school shooting was apparently stopped when a student with a firearm was apprehended outside of Hargrave High School. A likely tragedy was thwarted before it could happen as a result of a tip by a concerned student. The school was placed on lock-down as a precaution and the building and grounds were searched. The community and school officials are all thankful to the student for alerting authorities and for all the students conduct during the crisis. Even though the administration, teachers and law enforcement agencies responded quickly, it was clearly a close call and disrupted the day. It also radically changed the atmosphere at the regular monthly school board meeting scheduled that same night.
Normally the last board meeting of the school year is one of celebration and recognition of outstanding students and all that they have accomplished. This board meeting was no exception. Superintendent Benny Soileau and Board President Ray Burt presented a total of 107 students with awards and recognitions.
“I am going to talk about all of the celebrations we have tonight. Huffman is a district that has an awful lot of success. The kids and parents just keep that tradition going year in and year out. This year we are also going to honor some people who are participating in some events that are somewhat new to our district,” said Soileau.
Heading the list of honorees were Valedictorian Abigail Alley and Salutatorian Lauren Russell. Following them were presentations for a host of various academic and athletic accomplishments including seven seniors who received Academic All State recognition for excellence in both athletics and academics. Other recognitions were presented to the Huffman Clay Target Shooting Team, the Bass Fishing team, the Technology Student Association Team and University Interscholastic League (UIL) academic competitors including the UIL One Act Play Team.
The district’s boardroom and the hall just outside it were crowded by both parents of students being recognized and those who came to the meeting because of their concern over the grim events of the morning. Because the crowd exceeded the capacity of the room parents graciously and quietly entered and left the room through the awards ceremony to make room for each other as their students were recognized. Following the awards many left the area but the boardroom remained full with many standing as the meeting’s Public Comments began. People who wanted to speak had signed up to do so before the meeting began and there appeared to be more than could be normally accommodated within the time allocated.
Burt explained the ground rules for making Public Comments in a Texas school board meeting.
“We (the board trustees) cannot comment on items not on the agenda so your comments are purely for information,” Burt said. He explained that normally there is a thirty minute window and that each person making a comment is limited to five minutes. He explained the comments would be timed so as many as possible could speak.
“We know this is very important. After we hear what you have to say, Dr. Soileau will get back with you regardless of if you do get to speak or not,” he said. Because of the importance of the situation Burt indicated some extra time over the thirty minutes normally allotted would be permitted if necessary.
The first speaker was Jason Shirley, a Huffman resident whose daughter attends Hargrave High School. He introduced himself as a law enforcement officer in the area who has experience and training on incident response teams. He was at both the Santa Fe High School on Friday May 17 and at Hargrave High School no Monday.
“I just want to cover a couple of topics on the Santa Fe incident that happened last Friday and briefly what happened today and then discuss where we go forward. Who would have thought that 45 miles from a city I patrol in we would have this incident. I responded with a technician and it was a pretty bad tragedy. A couple of students were immediately surprised when the incident started but I could tell from walking through there that there were others who appeared to have a chance. This is my opinion only. I am not an investigator but a part of the response...but the kids did what they were taught what to do. They were going and hiding. They were trying to secure themselves in the building in a closet but I think they were lacking a couple of basic things in those closets that could have saved some lives. Again, this is my opinion only but there were small glass windows (in the doors.) If you are on the other side and I have a gun, guess what, I can see you. Put something over that window and I can’t see you. Put a simple door stop behind the door for a couple of dollars and the kid goes in there, shuts the door, drops the lock and drops the doorstop. He (the shooter) is going for the path of least resistance. If he sees resistance he is going to move on. But again, those kids did not have a chance. The majority of them did not have a chance because the security measures weren’t there. We need to take those measures,” Shirley said. “From hearing all kinds of stories today I think it was a success. We had a student who saw something or heard something and then said something. Our staff law enforcement responded appropriately. The kid was taken into custody. We secured the building with everyone in place. Everything worked the way it was supposed to. But if it would have been an active shooter as opposed to a student just coming to school with a gun, would it have been a success?” Shirley asked.
“That is for you all to determine. I will say I appreciated the Board and the citizens voting to implement the security measures as part of our bond thing. I appreciate that.” He closed his comments by explaining everyone, including the parents, need to know what to look for all of the time. In the case of parents that means also at home, in their children’s rooms where there may be indications of changes or even the making of incendiary devises as may have been the case at Santa Fe High School.
The audience applauded him as he left the speakers stand.
Following Shirley were 11 residents and parents who each expressed their own concerns and ideas. All were positive in presentation but all were also critical about what they thought the issues were and about the need to put more attention into the situation immediately. One speaker said she would not be returning her children to school until she knew what the district was going to do to get more secure. Most supported the observations and recommendations of Shirley. One speaker raised the question of permitting armed teachers while another specifically opposed the idea. Most supported installation of metal detectors at the school entrances and always having armed resources officers on duty. All were complimentary of the conduct of the administration during the crisis that day and all had constructive, positive criticisms.
In other business the Board:
Approved an across the board three percent pay raise for teachers, nurses and librarians and a three percent increase on the midpoint scale for other staff.
Received a comprehensive update on the construction status of the new Falcon Ridge Elementary School from Tom Trial, overall bond project administrator for the project. Trial presented a thorough set of photographs of the project as of May 21. He noted the project was making up for past delays. If the number of people on the job continues at the current levels and if the weather holds, Trial predicted the construction will be completed by its original deadline of July 19.
The next regularly scheduled Board of Trustees Meeting will be on Monday June 21 at 7 p.m. in the Board Room of the Huffman ISD Administration Building, 24302 FM 2100.