Dozens of Houston schools fail safety test

February 15, 2010 7:07:49 PM PST
13 Undercover makes a shocking discovery about the safety of our kids in the schools we trust to protect them. It's an investigation every parent should see. It's what HISD's own records prove about security and safety in thousands of Houston classrooms. Even HISD is calling what we found unacceptable.

It's a 911 call that would give any parent chills.

"It shows here that they have somebody shooting at the kids," a voice on the emergency dispatch was heard saying.

The year was 1992. An angry, mentally disturbed father walks into Piney Point Elementary school with two guns, four ammo clips and opens fire.

"They told us to run, run, run for our lives," said one parent we spoke with. "God, it was very scary."

Former HPD Officer Lowell Neinast was there to teach a DARE class.

"I see this man come around the corner with two weapons and looking like Rambo," said Neinast. "Through the windows, all I see was kids."

Neinast was shot twice as he pushed kids to safety.

"I couldn't shoot at him because there are kids everywhere," he said.

"You got to help us to protect the schools," said a parent on the scene to us when we originally reported on the story back in 1992.

So intruders are stopped before they get to our kids.

"When someone who is unknown enters the building, it should take a matter of seconds," said Neinast.

Yet nearly half of HISD schools tested failed a secret undercover security intruder test.

"There is a danger," said Curtis Clay with the Texas School Safety Center.

And you'll be shocked to see how badly they failed.

"This is scary," said Neinast.

At one southwest Houston middle school, the undercover intruder walked the school freely for 30 minutes, counting eight teachers and staff he was able to walk by unchallenged. He walked the entire campus three times, through the playground and cafeteria

"That's inexcusable," said Neinast. "That's something waiting to happen."

"And was never identified," said Brad Bailey with HISD. "That would be hopefully that was one we rated poor."

"That's a really long time," we said to Bailey.

"I would agree with you," he said.

Schools are supposed to limit access to the front doors of the school only.

"It's important school districts limit the accessibility," said Clay.

At one east side elementary school, the undercover inspector entered the teachers' lounge and actually sat down, then reentered the school though the pre-K entrance. The door had been propped open.

At one north Houston elementary school, an undercover HISD operative entered the school building through the Braille office and went unchallenged by three staff members.

At a north side middle school, the undercover intruder walked the length of the cafeteria, past students, staff members, even HISD police.

"That's very troubling," said HISD Police Chief Jimmie Dotson. "We can't play with the safety and security of our students and educators."

At one school, a female undercover investigator was allowed to walk into the girls' restroom.

"Nobody knew who she was. She wasn't ID'ed," said Neinast. "That's inexcusable, no reason for that."

At least 61 schools have no records of ever having the intruder drill in the first place.

"When someone is in that building who doesn't belong, seconds count," we said to Clay.

"Exactly," he responded.

Of the schools where security was tested, 72 got a poor grade. At one north Houston middle school, the intruder entered the cafeteria and sat down at a lunch table, then moved to a second to make room for the kids, then moved towards the stage podium.

At another school, the undercover operative even identified himself to the main office staff as a campus intruder. You won't believe the response.

"OK, Mr. Intruder, sign yourself in," said the report.

"You're kidding me," said Neinast. "Wow. I don't get it."

No children were hurt that frightful morning at Piney Point Elementary, thanks in part to Lowell Neinast, who lives with two bullets still lodged inside him.

"You would think you would learn," he said. "These kids are our lives."

We have not identified particular problems at particular schools because we don't want to help the bad guys, but we do think parents have a right to know how safe their schools are from intruders. Here's the list of schools with safety ratings On the document, 'no assessment' means the schools weren't tested.

Monday night on Eyewitness News at 10pm -- HISD breaking a state law meant to make your kids safer.