New Mexico legislators discuss school security at Aztec High School
AZTEC — The chairwoman of the state's Legislative Education Study Committee told about half a dozen Aztec High School students that legislators will work to make schools safe during a committee meeting Tuesday at Aztec High School.
“We are going to look at measures that will keep schools safe without turning them into prisons,” said Sen. Mimi Stewart, D-Bernalillo.
Committee members toured Aztec High School, and students shared their stories about what happened during the school shooting on Dec. 7 and in the aftermath of the event.
The incident left two students dead before the shooter took his own life.
'We stand as one'
Most of the students who addressed the committee wore identical orange shirts that read, “We stand as one” in white letters on the front. The back of the shirt had black letters reading, “Aztec Strong.”
Today’s committee meeting focused on ways school officials can prevent similar incidents from taking place and how they can respond to shootings if they do occur.
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Aztec Municipal School District Superintendent Kirk Carpenter and Farmington Police Department communications specialist Ben McGaha emphasized the importance of having hand-held radios that can communicate not only with every teacher and staff member in the school but also with the district and the emergency dispatch center.
Farmington, Aztec and Bloomfield schools are all equipped with radios. An Aztec High School custodian used his radio on Dec. 7 to tell the school to go into lockdown.
Carpenter also demonstrated the school’s security system that allows the doors to be locked almost instantaneously.
The committee discussed topics like arming teachers, using retired police officers as security guards and a red flag warning system that would allow judges to approve taking firearms away from people who are deemed to be a threat to themselves or other people.
While the school has made a lot of security changes since the shooting on Dec. 7, many of the students said they still do not feel safe going to school. One student recalled a fire drill that happened at the school following the shooting. She said the students in the cafeteria were afraid to go outside during the drill.
Safety buckets prepared for classrooms
When Aztec High School went into lockdown during the shooting there, other schools throughout San Juan County also went into lockdown.
McCoy Elementary School in Aztec was on lockdown from shortly after 8 a.m. until about 1 p.m.
Taylor Martinez, who serves on the Parent Teacher Organization for the school, said many of the children were hungry, thirsty and crying, and had to go to the bathroom.
That prompted the organization of a project to create safety buckets for all classrooms. The buckets, which now can be found in schools throughout Aztec, include trash bags, cat litter, toilet paper, gloves, a privacy sheet, duct tape, a flashlight and lollipops. The classrooms also have a case of water and a large container of animal crackers.
In April, the school went into a shelter-in-place drill while police searched for a weapon that had been reported on the school grounds.
Martinez said the elementary school students were in their classrooms from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m.
“Our safety buckets were put to the test that day,” she said.
She encouraged schools throughout the state to equip classrooms with safety buckets.
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Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.