A news story earlier this week highlighted a frightening situation at Riverside High School. For three months, the school has been without a fire alarm system and without a PA system. As a parent and grandparent, I would not be comfortable knowing my children were in a school that couldn't detect a fire breaking out and had no way of notifying students and teachers of that fire or a possible security breach.

We are just six months past the Cielo Vista Walmart mass shooting and a couple of weeks past three people approaching El Paso High School, one of whom was armed with a BB gun. If a school doesn't have a PA system, how can they notify teachers to lock down a classroom?

At Riverside High School, they can't.

Tuesday morning, I emailed Patricia Ayala at the Ysleta Independent School District with some questions about Riverside High School. As of Wednesday afternoon, I have not received an answer to the email.

Here are the questions I asked in my email:

1. Why has it taken since November 2019 to get the alarm systems in place?
2. Is YISD working with the City to get the systems in place? Is there a problem with the City that is causing the delay?
3. A fire allegedly happened at RHS in one of the restrooms. What protocols are in place, other than someone calling 9-1-1 in case of a fire? If the PA system isn't operational, how would students and staff be notified of a fire?
4. Does the TEA know that there are no operational safety systems in RHS? Is is legal to continue to have the school open?
5. Has YISD notified the Fire Marshall that there are no operational fire alarms at RHS?

I spoke with an El Paso Fire Department official on the phone on Tuesday afternoon who told me that the department is aware of Riverside High School's fire alarm system being red-flagged because it's malfunctioning. Here are some of the questions I asked the EPFD:

1. How will RHS students and staff know if there is a fire on campus? The EPFD official told me that there are people on "fire guard duty." I asked how many fire fighters would be on hand but was told that it would be staff members of RHS on fire guard duty. The EPFD official said they have been trained in what to look for and would call 9-1-1 if there was a fire. Fire fighters couldn't be on campus because of overtime restrictions.

2. Other schools are affected - The EPFD official told me that most schools under construction in all school districts are also operating under fire guard duty. During construction, schools might not have an operational fire alarm.

3. Can a business or school be closed down if they don't have an operational fire alarm? The EPFD official said that businesses and school districts are accountable for having a working fire alarm system and if they don't, the EPFD notifies them of code requirements and works with them to get them up to code, but the EPFD won't close a school or business down for not having a working fire alarm system. The business or school district carries the liability for any problems if a fire should happen.

I also emailed the City and asked questions about the Riverside High School situation. I will keep working on getting answers from them and YISD and will let you know what they say.

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