Westwood Horizon

Principal Mario Acosta Holds Meeting in Wake of Florida Shooting

Principal Mario Acosta tells parents about the changes that will be made to the school for a safer learning environment.

Principal Mario Acosta tells parents about the changes that will be made to the school for a safer learning environment.

Photo by Amy Ma

Photo by Amy Ma

Principal Mario Acosta tells parents about the changes that will be made to the school for a safer learning environment.

Lizzie Deal, A&E Editor

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Following the Florida school shooting, Principal Mario Acosta held an open forum after school for parents and students on Feb. 28 to address security concerns. Mr. Acosta walked the attendees through the most recent security measures taken to ensure student and teacher safety, discussed possible future improvements, and opened the floor to parent questions, comments, and suggestions.

Since Feb. 14, the administration had been working around the clock to brainstorm ways to keep students and staff as safe as possible throughout the school day. This included taking extra precautions by locking all school doors during the day (which will be implemented as soon as the administration has worked out all of the kinks), adding additional security cameras to cover blind spots, and enforcing a policy that will make all visitors buzz into the main office before being allowed to enter the building.

“We are going to close all of the outer doors and students will come in and out with a card key,” Mr. Acosta said. “Teachers will hook [the keys] to the bathroom passes, so kids will have to use that badge to get in and out of the building during school hours.”

Another change the administration has been working on is the classroom door locks. Seeing as the current classroom doors only lock from the outside, in a lockdown, teachers would have to step outside their classrooms in order to lock the door, which could be dangerous. However, finding door handles and locks that both ensure student safety and agree with fire code is not only difficult but expensive. While the district is looking into more permanent alternatives, an interim solution has been found.

“Our district has been very wonderful and very responsive the last two weeks with this initiative,” Mr. Acosta said. “We found this little gizmo that will keep the door to where it can stay free-flowing in and out, but if the teacher removes the little gizmo from inside, the door will click into the locked position and have our kids safe in a faster manner.”

In addition, the trigger for a lockdown can now be accessed from more than one place on campus. The warning system has also been rigged up to the projectors of every classroom so that even if students miss the announcement, the projector will turn on and broadcast the message to ensure that no one is caught unaware.

“We’ve added an audio and a visual component to our lockdowns,” Mr. Acosta said. “Those projectors will be triggered with the lockdown alarm and [broadcast the] notification ‘We are in a lockdown, seek shelter,’ and then shut itself off after about two minutes. We don’t want those things staying on indefinitely because it’ll illuminate the classroom.”

On any given day, the campus hosts 20 to 30 substitute teachers who are not briefed on the individual campus’s policies in case of an emergency. While substitutes are trained by the district, the administration has decided that every substitute must also learn the school’s safety protocols through an in-person campus-based safety training.

“One of the things that we’ve done is we’ve streamlined and aligned the processes,” Mr. Acosta said. “Before, [each teacher] had a different binder [with] safety procedures were written a different way, and so we have centralized all that in the main office. Ms. Rosales has created a uniform binder for check in for every sub so that the procedures are in the same place with the same stuff no matter who you’re subbing for. It is important that they know what to do in an incident, just like our teachers.”

Because most of the deaths that occur during a school shooting result from having an open wound for a prolonged period of time, Mr. Acosta suggested adding simple first aid kit to every classroom. Teachers and possibly students will also have the opportunity to go through medical training.

“As horrific as this is, our teachers and maybe even some kids are going to have some base level EMS training to say ‘How can I create a tourniquet, how can I do something quickly to save someone’s life until law enforcement or EMS can get to them,’” Mr. Acosta said.

The discussion focused not only on how the staff would react to a threat similar to a shooting but ways to preemptively avoid an attack, such as offering the proper counseling for students at risk. Mr. Acosta has already allocated a counselor to be a full time crisis counselor, a position which hadn’t initially existed. Mr. Acosta also acknowledged the hire of a second Student Resource Officer (SRO) as well as credited Officer Jim Williby for his work with students.

“He is an absolute blessing for this community because he’s different than any other officer I’ve ever met,” Mr. Acosta said. “Jim has a mental health perspective — his wife is in that field — and when Jim gets involved with kids, he really is looking to see how he can help them.”

During the meeting, parents asked how an intervention would be made if a student had committed a major offense. Simply put, the SROs handle legal matters while counselors and assistant principals are called in to handle issues that are deemed to have broken only school rules.

“Our assistant principals and our SROs are one team,” Mr. Acosta said. “The SROs probably know as much about kids as our assistant principals. We have very good SROs and that’s because there is very good communication between the principals and the SROs.”

One of the things that Mr. Acosta continually stressed throughout the meeting was the importance that students have in stopping a potential threat. He urged that if a student was concerned about a peer, they should talk to a teacher, counselor, assistant principal, or submit a tip to the anonymous reporting hotline.

“We need you guys to tell us when things aren’t right,” Mr. Acosta said. “Whether you’re worried about a friend or about a friend’s friend, or you saw somebody with something. We need you to be that first line of defense. There’s 2,750 of you, so you guys are going to see it first, you’re going to hear it first, so we need you guys to bring it to us.”

When asked about how the administration was going to be handling the walkout protests against violence, Mr. Acosta stated that while he could not condone any actions taken by students on this matter, he hopes that participating students can do so in a safe and instructive way.

“If students do walk out, we’re trying to encourage students to congregate in a safe space, we’re trying to encourage students to be productive with that time and make it meaningful and not take advantage of the situation,” Mr. Acosta said.

In light of the recent shooting in Florida, Mr. Acosta acknowledged that teachers and faculty are no longer simply educators. They are now entrusted with keeping students safe in what could potentially be a very dangerous situation that wasn’t nearly as likely to occur years ago.

“It is very hard for educators to come to grips with the fact that these types of things are now part of our job duty,” Mr. Acosta said. “It’s hard for me as the principal. I’m trained in curriculum instruction and sure, I was trained in how to keep a building safe, but I’m not a tactical FBI agent. Unfortunately, that’s become a part of our jobs, to be aware of these things and know how to take a building full of people and try to keep them safe. We did get into the business to save kids’ lives, but we never thought it would be literal like this.”


3 Responses to “Principal Mario Acosta Holds Meeting in Wake of Florida Shooting”

  1. Divya Radhakrishnan on March 3rd, 2018 12:40 pm

    Student email : s512058@student.roundrockisd.org I hate guns and the second amendement. Our society today, is so different from 1960’s. Change is very good, but at the same time change is not good ! I recently realized I need to stop using social media. I hate the news, when I hear just in ‘ School shooting. In a perfect world, we all of usa /world or society should support each other. We all are equal. I believe in MLK ‘s dream to this today in 2018.


    Michael Reply:

    Before you go writing (spouting) some random response, please use proper grammar. Also, why are you mentioning the 1960’s out off all possible time periods? Did you know that the homicide rate in the United States has dropped by a large margin since the 1990’s? The largest chance of death via firearms is actually from suicide. In 2013 there was a study that said 63% of deaths via guns were due to suicide. Also, what do you mean “change is very good, but at the same time change is not good”? This is an extremely hypocritical statement. What do you mean stop using social media? Does this relate to the next sentence about news? I will agree that often the news makes everything seem worse. The news is losing consumers and thus makes all events seem way out of proportion to gain more viewers. If you do individual research you will realize that life in the U.S. currently is actually rather peaceful and violent crime is down. A perfect world is a utopia. Utopia literally means “an imagined place or state of things in which everything is perfect”. Imagined is the key word here. Sorry, but it is not going to happen. The mash ups of religions, races, and just social prejudice in general guarantees that world peace will (probably) never happen. The revenue and jobs generated by the defense industry alone means that U.S. wars will probably never stop either. In other words, wars are too profitable to stop. I too believe we are all equal but in a realistic sense, world peace will not be achieved.


  2. Malaya on March 5th, 2018 4:12 pm

    While I understand harsher and realistic drills might encourage students to take lockdown drills more seriously. Fear brings more fear until insensitive is all that’s left. Sadly, no matter how we try we cannot prevent a school shooting; however, steps should be taken to reduce such attacks. Are we taking the right steps? Can we even stop a school shooting all together? Uncertainty is the only answer.


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