‘Hardening’ SAISD schools with federal grant money to make them safer

One year after the shooting in Uvalde, local school shows changes it’s made

SAN ANTONIO – One month after the shooting at Robb Elementary School, the federal government passed the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act.

It allocated more than $12 billion toward both mental health and school safety measures nationwide.

The latest local grant was issued last month to the University of the Incarnate Word so they can help bring more professionals into the field of mental health and place them at local schools.

One of the original grants last year went to districts like SAISD, specifically to “harden schools,” keeping dangerous people out, and strengthening communication inside.

“It’s hard to think about, just thinking about what happened last year in Uvalde,” said Cotton Academy Principal Rawan Hammoudeh.

Principal Hammoudeh spoke to KSAT on the one-year mark of the Robb Elementary massacre and talked about the many changes her elementary school is making to prevent a shooting from happening there.

“It’s sad, but it’s something that we have to be prepared for,” Hammoudeh said.

On Tuesday, U.S. Senator John Cornyn toured Cotton Academy to see the safety changes for himself.

“The doorbells with the cameras on the outside. Our first line of defense, those have been updated because some of them were older,” Hammoudeh said.

Inside the school, staff showed the senator they went from having six cameras to 30.

School administration acknowledged that in Uvalde, communication through radios was a big issue. So at Cotton Academy, they got brand new radios to enhance the communication system.

“They’re clear, so we can communicate from anywhere in the building or around the building and it doesn’t get cut off, which is critical because if you’re relaying information, you want to be able to hear it,” Hammoudeh explained.

Hammoudeh, all the administrators, custodians, and front door staff all wear earpieces at all times.

“The earpiece is connected to my radio. It doesn’t come off because that communication in the event of an emergency is critical so we can act immediately,” Hammoudeh said.

She also explained the school is doing regular active shooter drills.

“Reassuring our kids when we do those drills, ‘Hey, we’re here. We love you. We’re going to protect you,’” Hammoudeh said.

After his tour, Cornyn gave a press conference saying he was proud of how the schools are using the money.

“I was impressed with all the layered efforts to try to make sure that they are safe. And so that was very encouraging to me. But we still have work to do,” Senator Cornyn said.

Hammoudeh was relieved to hear him say that the work is not over.

“It has to be consistent and we have to push for additional funding. We need the funding for ballistic film, for additional fencing,” she said.

She said the number one question parents ask is not about the quality of education -- it’s about school safety.

Hammoudeh said continuous attention and funding will allow her to keep her promise to parents that she’s doing everything in her power to keep their kids safe.

About the Authors:

Courtney Friedman is a KSAT anchor and reporter. She has an ongoing series called Loving in Fear, confronting Bexar County’s domestic violence epidemic. She's also covered Hurricane Harvey, the shootings in Sutherland Springs and Santa Fe, and tornadoes throughout Texas. She’s a California native and proud Longhorn who loves calling SA home.

Adam Barraza is a photojournalist at KSAT 12 and an El Paso native. He interned at KVIA, the local ABC affiliate, while still in high school. He then moved to San Antonio and, after earning a degree from San Antonio College and the University of the Incarnate Word, started working in news. He’s also a diehard Dodgers fan and an avid sneakerhead.