TYLER, Texas (KETK) – Nearly $1 million is being sent to protect schools across East Texas in the wake of the tragic Uvalde shooting that took the lives of 19 children and two teachers.

“I remember Columbine as a teacher, you know, kind of through that lens,” said White Oak ISD Superintendent, Brian Gray. “But Sandy Hook for me, as an Administrator or School Superintendent, was the first one that really put you in that mind process that I am in an Administrator overseeing this school… and this happened.”

America had endured several school shootings before Columbine, but never quite like that one. Through this and countless others, students have been the first to witness troubling behavior before a tragedy occurs.

“Columbine. I mean that was 18 years ago now or more. I was a teacher at a middle school when that first happened, and so that whole event really triggered a lot of attention. But, we are in the business because we love kids. So, when those things happen, we ask what can we do to keep our kids safe. It always just kind of heightens your awareness,” said Westwood ISD’s Director of Technology, Brendan May.

What is known as “the Columbine effect” caused districts nationwide to implement universal safety steps, classrooms with doors that lock from the inside, active shooter drills, and police response plans with local districts. Despite these extra measures in place, mass shootings continue to horrify the nation.

The security protocols put in place after the 1999 massacre directed officers to immediately confront active shooters, which did not happen at Robb Elementary in Uvalde.

“We want folks to understand that this is us being proactive,” May said. “This is not a reaction to Uvalde. We care about kids and have been thinking about how to better protect our students for a long time. Uvalde did increase some of the awareness and for better or worse, open up some funding.”

Republican U.S. Sen. John Cornyn fought to secure funding for school security upgrades. Three of the 30 districts that will receive federal grants are in East Texas totaling just under $1 million.

  • Diboll Independent School District – $234,956
  • Westwood Independent School District – $194,907
  • White Oak Independent School District – $500,000
  • Federal grants totaling $929,863 to improve school safety measures

“We have a safety and security team schoolwide. We meet periodically to discuss what we do well and what we could do better. We’ve also hired our first resource officer in the history of White Oak ISD,” said Gray. “We are a Guardian school. We have armed staff. As we sit here, I have a digital handheld radio and have direct communication with White Oak PD… I can switch to a channel and it goes directly and not have to go through the 911 process.”

With half a million dollars, White Oak ISD plans on upgrading security cameras, allowing law enforcement to access footage directly from their patrol units. Westwood ISD also intends to add a full police department.

 “We were awarded the grant for cameras, locking vestibules at the school, so what it will really do, for my part anyway, is see anybody that’s not supposed to be on campus or any threat of any kind before someone was even able to get into campus,” said Westwood ISD Security Director, Mike Hoyt. “The locking vestibule will be the same way. People will have to be buzzed in and show their license, and then another door that’s locked as well with an additional camera in the office.”

Part of the money will go to school-wide radios for the new Westwood ISD police force and staff. Social media and school websites will be updated to help alert families in an emergency.

At Diboll ISD, most of the grant money will be spent on wireless wearable communication for teachers and staff.

 “We implemented a system called Centegix. It’s about the size of an ID card and the teachers can wear it. There’s a button that you press and it will activate,” said Chief of Diboll ISD Police, David Garza.

The rest of Diboll’s funds will go to metal detectors at entrances with training provided for all the new systems.

Although security continues to be a hot topic since Uvalde, districts are ensuring learning is the top focus for students.

 “It just seems like these kids need to be able to be kids and come to school and learn, enjoy it, and have a good time. They shouldn’t have to worry about all these things that are going on out there. They are very rare. The numbers don’t seem to be going down, but they don’t seem to be going up either. I walk around and meet a lot of the students and ask them and they say they aren’t too worried about it. I just hope that this brings comfort to everyone here.”

Westwood ISD Security Director Mike Hoyt

White Oak ISD, Westwood ISD and Diboll ISD expect to have all security changes implemented within the next year.

Your news, delivered daily. Sign up for KETK and FOX51’s newsletters for the latest news, sports and weather alerts across East Texas. Customize your inbox with the categories you’re interested in.