February 26, 2024
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  • On Tuesday, May 22, Texas Governor Greg Abbott met with superintendents, administrators and law enforcement officials to discuss possible improvements to the physical safety of Texas schools. The governor’s office held three roundtable discussions focusing on the themes:
    n making schools safer places;
    • identifying threats in advance and resolving them;
    • improving mental health assessments and services;
    On Wednesday, May 30, the Office of the Governor issued a document titled “School and Firearm Safety Action Plan.”
    The document begins with a description of the Governor’s Criminal Justice Division grants provided to Santa Fe, Texas, including deploying crisis response counselors to meet immediate mental health needs, assisting Texas Health and Human Services Commission efforts to provide a long-term behavioral health response, ensuring first responders have mental health resources, providing additional counselors to ISDs in the Santa Fe area, providing highly trained counselors to Santa Fe ISD for the upcoming school year and coordinating long-term community mental health efforts.
    The remainder of the document addresses a wide range of issues from “hardening” schools against active shooter attacks with upgrades to current systems and incorporating safety features into new buildings to mandating a
    48-hour reporting period to close gaps in federally mandated
    background checks.
    Under the heading “Making Schools Safer,” the plan recommends that schools collaborate with local law enforcement to heighten police presence on school campuses. It also recommends training school marshals and improving the program. The number of school marshals can be increased by funding training this summer.
    The School Marshal Program is one of the programs approved by the legislature to train and arm school staff to respond in an active shooter situation. Muleshoe ISD Board of Trustees recently passed a policy to develop a legislatively passed Guardian Plan. This Guardian Plan allows for select Muleshoe School staff to carry a legal firearm on campus to help with the prevention of an unlikely event of an active shooter.
    The Texas School Safety Center has collected data on the current safety of Texas school facilities. According to a 2015 – 2016 survey done by TSSC:
    • 79% of schools have a visitor sign-in process;
    • 93.8% of administrators said that metal detectors were never used in their school;
    • 44% of school districts have law enforcement officers on their campus regularly;
    • 80% of schools have staff who monitor school buildings before and after school;
    • 87.7% of districts use CCTV cameras;
    • 96.1% of administrators lock their campus doors to limit access to the school
    • About half (54.9%) of teachers said “most” teachers at their school monitor hallways between classes, while 19.8% said “all” teachers monitor the hallways.
    Under “Preventing Threats in Advance,” the document focuses on mental health, beginning with providing mental health evaluations to identify students at risk and provide them the help they need.
    Under “Preventing Threats in Advance,” the group recommends providing mental health evaluations to identify students at risk of harming others and providing them with the help they need. This includes expanding access to Texas Tech Health Sciences Center Telemedicine Wellness Intervention Triage & Referral Project, or TWITR.
    School districts currently using the service are Abernathy, Crosbyton, Frenship, Idalou, Levelland, Lubbock Cooper, Plainview, Ralls, Roosevelt and Tahoka.
    Also recommended is increasing Mental Health First Aid training during this summer.
    The group points out that school counselors’ time is frequently spent on academic issues. They recommend that the state create two classes of school counselors: one focused on academic issues, and the other focused on behavioral or mental health issues.
    Attacks and threats by students on teachers is a growing problem. During the 2011-2012 school year, 5.7 percent of Texas teachers reported that they were threatened with injury or physically attacked during the previous 12 months. The group recommended protecting school employees by issuing a zero-tolerance policy for students who commit assault.
    The group discussed several means of enhancing firearms safety. One of those is creating a statewide case management system to provide magistrates immediate access to critical information and to speed the timely reporting of court records for federal background checks.
    The group recommends that adjudications affecting the right to legally purchase and possess firearms should be reported within 48 hours. This 48-hour requirement should also extend to protective orders and family violence convictions. Courts should ensure that all disqualifying felony convictions are entered as soon as possible.
    The group also recommends encouraging the Texas Senate and House leaders to issue an interim charge to consider the merits of adopting a red flag law allowing law enforcement, a family member, school employee, or a district attorney to file a petition seeking the removal of firearms from a potentially dangerous person only after legal due process is provided. They also recommend strengthening the safe firearm storage law, including changing the law to include 17-year-olds.
    In conclusion, Abbott says, “The policy proposals outlined in this plan are a starting point – not an ending place. This plan provides dozens of strategies that can be used before the next school year begins to keep our students safe when they return to school. These suggestions identify nearly $110 million in total likely funding, including $70 million that is already or will soon be available to begin this important work. Additionally, I have currently identified a specific need for $30 million that I will work with the Legislature to fund next session.
    “This plan also provides strategies for the Legislature to consider. The strategy I most strongly encourage the Legislature to consider is greater investment in mental health – especially crisis intervention counselors. As long as mental health challenges trouble our children, there will never be enough safety barriers we can build to protect our students. If, however, we can address the mental health challenges faced by some of our students, it will do more than make our schools safer, it will build a better future for those troubled students and for our state.”
    To access the full plan, go to: gov.texas.gov/uploads/files/press/School_Safety_Action_Plan_05302018.pdf
Rhea Gonzales


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