May 14, 2020 by HCDE-Texas
School safety has a formidable intruder with the invasion of COVID-19, and no one is more aware of that fact than Julia Andrews, director for Harris County Department of Education’s Center for Safe and Secure Schools.
The Center was created in 1999 at the request of Harris County superintendents and is tasked with the mission of supporting school districts’ efforts to have safe and secure learning environments.
The Center is in contact several days a week with emergency operations leaders from approximately 25 school districts and six charter schools within greater Harris County. The meetings allow for sharing best practices and strategies in emergency operation planning and security.
The pandemic is the new, formidable enemy that continues to spread uncertainty through area school districts and beyond.
“We are very busy sharing COVID-19 updates and recommendations via emails and newsletters and have been contacted by several school districts to do virtual professional development as well,” Andrews said.
Recently the Center hosted an operations meeting which included the Texas School Safety Center officials who shared a draft of what reopening schools in Texas might look like.
In that meeting, Rich Vela, executive director HCDE Facilities, led a discussion on cleaning and disinfecting school classrooms and buildings. Several districts called for follow up on procedures and products. Members were referred to HCDE’s Choice Partners co-op for easy access to cleaning supplies and food products.
“We’re using all the resources we have to help school districts,” said Andrews.
Requests for assistance from the Center run the gamut. Staff are concerned about not being about to locate missing students. Educators need guidance on how to effectively communicate with parents from home. Parents need resources for their children sheltering in place at home.
“We also need to be aware of identifying and checking on students who may be suffering from abuse,” said Andrews. “School was their outlet for normalcy, and many are home suffering.”
This week the Texas Education Agency submitted adoptive recommendations and models for reopening schools. Ideas are flowing down the back-to-school pipeline.
“We have a lot of things to think about as when we open schools back up,” Andrews said. “We’ll need to be patient, flexible and listen to health care experts.”
The Center provides a resource guide on its website to address physical and mental health, as well as education resources: https://hcde-texas.org/safe-and-secure-schools/culture-climate/
(For more about the Center, go to www.hcde-texas.org/safe-and-secure-schools.)