A parent of a Franklin High School student accused the El Paso Independent School District of  “gross negligence” after she entered a campus building through an unlocked door during Monday’s lockdown at the campus.

EPISD Police Chief Manuel Chavira acknowledged in an email to the parent, Laura Howerton, that a door that was supposed to have been locked to protect students and staff was left open.

“During a lockdown, that door should have been secured. As the officers were sent to the school, these doors are double-checked to see if the office staff locked the door before proceeding to their lockdown location. We will revisit this protocol with the campus to ensure everyone has a clear understanding of securing our campus,” Chavira said in the email, which Howerton provided to El Paso Matters.

Howerton, whose daughter attends Franklin, said she was unaware of the lockdown at the school when she approached the Franklin Magnet Center (the former Hornedo Middle School) just before lunchtime to deliver a paper to the attendance office. She entered through a door with a large yellow and black sign that read “ENTER HERE” and a smaller sign that said “NOT IN SERVICE” covering the intercom/lock system.

She walked in unnoticed and waited in an empty office inside the building for several minutes. Two district security guards eventually approached her and asked how she got in the building. After her answer, an officer told her the campus was locked down, escorted her out of the building and told her to return to her vehicle and remain there.

In a statement to El Paso Matters on Tuesday, EPISD officials said district leaders and police “debriefed the lockdown incident to determine where protocols were not followed and ensure systems improvements are addressed.”

“District administration and police services actively addressed issues at the campus Tuesday and will continue to work with our campus administration and maintenance department to ensure the integrity of our systems,” the statement said.  

According to a statement issued by EPISD on Monday, the lockdown lasted from approximately 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Several local law enforcement agencies participated in an investigation regarding an armed suspect near the campus. One person, who is not a Franklin student, was eventually arrested off campus..

When Howerton learned about the unconfirmed reports of a person with a gun near campus, she called it high on the list of a parent’s nightmares because of the Robb Elementary School shooting in Uvalde last May. 

Her fear turned to rage after she spoke with Jennifer Quinn, a Franklin assistant principal, later that day and was told that the door had been broken for months and that it had not been fixed despite numerous work orders.

“This is unacceptable,” Howerton told El Paso Matters. “Doors are a first line of defense. Not repairing that door is gross negligence. Does the price of a door trump the price of a life? I was beyond furious at the situation. I want that door fixed today.”

In the statement to El Paso Matters, EPISD officials said the door lock is functioning properly but an “access control mechanism” is not. “The scheduling of repairs on the access-control mechanism is in process,” according to the statement.

Howerton expressed her outrage in several emails to district leaders and said she received a phone call from Mark Paz, EPISD assistant superintendent for secondary schools, on Tuesday.

She said he confirmed that the door was broken and that the district cannot get the parts to fix it. She said Paz added that it was the responsibility of two employees, who he did not name, to secure the door with a lock and key, but neither did their job on Monday. 

The parent said Paz told her that one of the employees hurried to help at the main campus and the other ran and hid.

In the Tuesday email response to Howerton, Chavira said that the issues of the door and the training of staff for lockdown procedures have been addressed. He said every door will be part of a weekly audit check.  

Some parents of Franklin students decided to keep their children home Tuesday because of their concerns with campus safety based on the alleged armed suspect on Monday and some threats made against the school via social media Tuesday.

“My concern and motivation is to get the building secure,” Howerton said. “If the lock can’t be fixed, replace the door.”

Daniel Perez covers higher education for El Paso Matters, in partnership with Open Campus. He has written on military and higher education issues in El Paso for more than 30 years.