Westwood High Responds to Cover Up Allegations

Joe Trotter | @thetrotspot

In response to allegations of covering up an alleged on-campus shooting, Westwood High School Principal Mario Acosta doubled down on the assertion that there was no threat on campus.

A letter the school sent to staff and parents claimed that there was no threat on campus. However, it admitted that, at the very least, a student admitted to bringing a BB gun on school grounds. After multiple witnesses approached school authorities to detail the threat, school resource officers conducted a sweep of the high school and determined that the suspect was not on school grounds. The suspect was later apprehended off campus.

The Issues

71 Republic spoke with multiple witnesses who claim that the gun was discharged on school grounds. Westwood High School officials repudiate this claim.

We corroborated the story with multiple witnesses who requested anonymity out of fear for their safety. Like the school district, the staff at 71 Republic strives to protect the privacy and physical safety of underage students. After individually vetting our multiple sources, 71 Republic’s board of directors unanimously agreed to run this story while protecting their anonymity.

Also at issue is whether or not a student armed on school property, with what the school claims was only a BB gun, is considered a threat. According to our sources, the suspect expressed the intention to cause bodily injury to at least one student. By most definitions, expressing hostile intention against an individual is a threat.

71 Republic’s board stands behind our original story.

School Security at Westwood High School

Westwood High School is a part of Round Rock Independent School District, which in recent years upgraded school security systems and practices to protect students and faculty. The school district added hundreds of security cameras and instituted an Anonymous Alert program to report potential threats.

The district also contracts with Social Sentinel, a company that monitors threats on social media. According to previous reports, the company monitors students’ social media activities and mentions of Round Rock ISD facilities in relation to potential threats.

In addition to these security measures, the school district is considering a controversial plan to create its own independent police force. Currently, the school pays $2.5 million each year to staff schools with officers from the Round Rock Police Department, Williamson County Sheriff’s Office, and the Austin Community College District Police Department. However, Round Rock Police Chief Allen Banks and Williamson County Sheriff Robert Chody notified school officials that their agencies are unable to provide staffing for campus security beyond 2021.

Round Rock ISD is seeking voter approval for a $508.4 million bond. $30 million of this is slated to improve school safety. One specific improvement the district cited is a video intercom system that Westwood High School has already piloted.

Why Does This Matter?

School officials clearly believe that current security arrangements are inadequate, but expensive gadgets like video intercom systems and new security cameras would not have stopped the threat like an armed student already in the building. Adding dedicated school officers might help mitigate a situation in progress, but in an age where police don’t consider themselves responsible for student safety, even that is not a given.

Continually scanning students’ social media postings might help prevent threats. This very practice may have prevented an incident in a March 2018 case. After monitoring, authorities were able to criminally charge a Westwood High School student for making a terroristic threat. In that instance, Westwood’s security efforts were clearly effective.

However, the system failed in this case. It left the school open to criticism over spending tens of millions on ineffective school safety solutions.

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