SAN ANGELO, Texas – A single notification from a small Texas school district near the U.S.-Mexico border alarmed many residents Tuesday after officials announced the school was locking its doors due to a nearby border patrol operation.
The notification caused an uproar on social media from those concerned about border security in Comstock, Texas, a small town of about 500 people roughly 200 miles west of San Antonio.
Now, the superintendent of the school district says he feels the situation has been blown out of proportion.
On Tuesday, officials with Comstock ISD locked the outside doors of its lone campus, a K-12 school with about 212 students in Comstock, as a safety precaution while U.S. Border Patrol agents pursued a small group of people in the area, according to a notification sent via text by school officials:
“Comstock Students, Staff And Parents: There is a group of illegal aliens south of Comstock that the Border Patrol are pursuing. As a precaution, we are locking all outside doors. All students passing between buildings will be accompanied by an adult. Your children are safe. We will alert you should the status change.”
Superintendent O.K. Wolfenbarger, III, said the school received a report from border patrol and, as a precaution, locked its outside doors and escorted students from building to building.
Public reaction on social media was swift and reverberated with hundreds of Facebook and Twitter users calling for authorities to secure the border and “build the wall” after a post about the school locking its doors was shared on Facebook more than 1.6 thousand times by Wednesday morning.
“It was being advertised as a ‘lockdown,’ but that’s not what it was,” Wolfenbarger said. “We call it ‘shelter in place.’ We just locked the outside doors. It was simply a precaution.”
Wolfenbarger said the campus, which sits about 3 miles from the Texas-Mexico border, is surrounded by open ranch land to the east and south, and a Border Patrol station is about 2 miles east of town. The few buildings that make up Comstock ISD’s school are usually left unlocked to allow students to travel quickly from one building to the next.
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The decision to lock the exterior doors wasn’t unusual or the first time the school has erred on the side of caution, Wolfenbarger said.
“This is not a new occurrence. This has happened before,” he said. “It’s happened about 2-3 times in the last 10 years.”
While border patrol pursued the group of people, Wolfenbarger stressed it was “business as usual” at Comstock ISD.
“Classes were normal,” Wolfenbarger said. “We even had a field trip. We even had a class that was offsite. … I think the parents were a little more nervous than what they needed to be.”
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Dennis Smith with the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol public affairs office in Del Rio, Texas, said no one that he’s aware of with Border Patrol advised the school district to lock its doors while agents pursued the group of people.
“We didn’t tell them to lock the doors,” Smith said. “The people were apprehended a short time later and are being processed according to (Customs and Border Protection) guidelines.”
Concerns about border security have grown sharply since another migrant caravan arrived earlier this week at the border.
Authorities say almost 2,000 Central American migrant men, women and children arrived Monday in the Mexico city of Piedras Negras, Coahuila, across the Rio Grande from Eagle Pass in Maverick County, Texas.
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The caravan prompted about 500 state troopers with the Texas Department of Public Safety, as well as several other law enforcement agencies, to respond near the border.
Wolfenbarger said the migrant caravan at Piedras Negras, which is about 87 miles to the south of Comstock, had nothing to do with the people who were pursued by officials near his school.
“I was assured by Border Patrol that this has no connection with what’s going on in Eagle Pass,” Wolfenbarger said.
As of Wednesday, Wolfenbarger said the doors at Comstock ISD were open and everything at the school was routine.
“The doors are no longer locked,” Wolfenbarger said. “Classes are normal today. Classes were normal yesterday.”