Message on Providing a Safe and Secure Learning Environment in Round Rock ISD

June 20, 2018

Dear Round Rock ISD Community,

As you may have heard, Round Rock ISD is considering establishing its own police department as many public school districts across Texas have done.

We have long enjoyed a close partnership with local law enforcement agencies who we contract with to provide school resource officers on our campuses, but, unfortunately, those agencies no longer have the workforce to fully staff our secondary schools. Through many discussions with Round Rock Police Chief Allen Banks, Williamson County Sheriff Robert Chody, and other law enforcement and community leaders, moving forward with establishing our own department seems to be the best course forward for ensuring our students and staff are safe both now and in the future.

I want to be clear, however, that we are at the beginning of this journey and that we will not only keep you, our community, informed of our progress but we are also asking for your input and participation. Tomorrow night, the Board of Trustees will consider a resolution (which you can read here) that would allow us to move forward in creating a job description and posting for the position of Chief of Police. This person would be a key player in crafting policies and procedures, exploring best practices around the state, and following the protocols required by the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement to establish a Texas law enforcement agency. It is important to note that officers employed by a Round Rock ISD police department would be state Licensed Peace Officers (subject to all licensing, certification and training of any Texas law enforcement officer) and would work closely with all local municipal police departments, state and Federal agencies, and other school district police departments in the Williamson County/Travis County area.

We will seek input from the community through surveys, focus groups and community forums in selecting the Chief of Police and in developing operating procedures moving forward. As stated in the resolution, the Chief of Police, after working with local law enforcement partners and the community, will prepare and submit to the Board of Trustees a  request to move forward with establishing a Round Rock ISD Police Department. The Board at that time may choose to move forward or to explore other avenues for protecting our campuses.

Trustees have discussed the potential need for a District police department for several years, understanding that, given the growth of the district, we would likely reach a point where it became the best course of action. Last year, the conversation became critical when the Round Rock Police Department informed us that, due to a need to ensure enough officers are available to police the community, they would need to pull out of our school resource officer program by 2021.

We currently contract with Round Rock Police, the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office and the Austin Community College Police Department to provide officers stationed at our middle and high schools. We pay the officers’ salaries during the school year as part of the arrangement.

We are hyper-aware of the pressures facing law enforcement agencies and know that recruitment and resources are a challenge. In fact, those pressures are why we have needed to contract with so many agencies, resulting in a patchwork approach to security.

Some community members have asserted that the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office could take over staffing all of our schools with resource officers and that this would be a better approach than creating our own department. We would love to continue our partnership if that were the case, but in several meetings with Sheriff Robert Chody, he has made it clear that Williamson County Sheriff’s Office is in a similar position as the Round Rock Police Department. Sheriff Chody did provide a proposal outlining costs, but does not currently have the personnel to fulfill the proposal.

This spring, the Sheriff’s Office had to pull two resource officers from Westwood and McNeil high schools, as well as an officer from Grisham Middle School. Pearson Ranch Middle, which is in Williamson County, is currently staffed by an Austin Community College Police Officer. With shortages such as this already occurring, we have reasonable concerns about the assurance of adequate staffing in the future.

This, of course, begs the question of whether we will be able to staff our own police department. We are still exploring this, but so far have learned that school district departments tend to attract more mid-career officers who have either been school resource officers and enjoy the education setting or are seeking a work environment with more predictable hours and a schedule that allows for more quality family time. Whatever the reason, school district departments have not experienced as many challenges recruiting as municipal departments are reporting.

The tragedies that occurred in just the past few months at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida and Sante Fe High School near Houston are a parent’s most horrific nightmare come true. As a career educator, a father, and leader of a school district with 49,000 precious students and more than 6,000 dedicated school employees, the thought of school violence—particularly the type of massacre that has become tragically common in the past two decades since Columbine—is what keeps me up at night and strengthens my resolve to do all I can to make sure our campuses are safe and secure. We must have a first line of defense and that line, at a minimum, should be a police officer in every middle school and two police officers in every high school.

Our own police department would allow us to have control over staffing to ensure that is always the case. It also allows us to mandate training in areas such as diversity, implicit bias, mental health awareness and restorative discipline practices. A school resource officer is more than an armed guard—he or she builds relationships with students, can make a child’s first interaction with law enforcement positive, and serves as an educator, mentor, and deterrent to bad behavior. They investigate threats and track them down before they become a reality. They help spot troubled students who may need intervention before they hurt themselves or others.

I believe this is a step in the right direction. Protecting our students is non-negotiable for all of us. While we are in the business of education, we know our children cannot learn if they are not safe and we will not leave them unprotected. But we also want to be thoughtful, careful and deliberate in our execution of this endeavor. We want to build a department we can all be proud of, one that will be held accountable, not only to the Board of Trustees but to the community as well. We are asking for your help, advice, and counsel as we move forward.

Thank you for trusting us with the protection of your children. It is a responsibility we do not take lightly. Please feel free to contact me if you have specific questions or suggestions you would like to share.

Respectfully,

Steve Flores, Ph.D.
Superintendent of Schools