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Texas School Safety Plan Released By Governor Abbott

Governor Abbott’s plan brings a series of state policy changes and school safety recommendations in a wide range of areas.

Texas School Safety Plan Released By Governor Abbott

Governor Greg Abbott unveiled the plan after speaking with school safety advocates over the last two weeks. Photo via World Travel & Tourism Council Flickr.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott announced a plan today to improve school safety that features changes and recommendations relating to adding law enforcement officers to schools, enhancing mental health support structures, strengthening gun security measures and more.

Governor Abbott described the 40-page safety plan, released 12 days after ten people were killed in a school shooting at a Santa Fe high school, as “a starting point, not an ending place.”

A press release from the governor’s office says the plan identifies nearly $110 million in total funding for various initiatives, including immediate funds for the Santa Fe community and $70 million that will be available to communities shortly.

“It provides strategies that can be used before the next school year begins to keep our students safe when they return to school,” Abbott said in a statement.

Some of the proposals in the plan will require legislative approval while others can be implemented right away.

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In total there are 40 recommendations within the plan. The majority of those action items are broken down into categories and numbered below.

Increasing Law Enforcement Presence in Schools

A core tenet of the proposal is the need to add more police officers and marshals to school campuses in the state.

“When an active shooter situation arises, the difference between life and death can be a matter of seconds,” Abbott said. “Trained security personnel can make all the difference.”

Current state law allows specially trained school staff members, deemed marshals, to bring guns onto campus if they are stored and locked away.

The governor recommended many changes relating to officers in schools.

1. School should collaborate with local law enforcement to heighten police presence on school campuses. This could be done by adding campuses to officers’ regular patrol routes and allowing officers to go on break or file reports on campuses. The plan calls for the state to consider offering $10,000 grants to schools that draw down federal funds to make accommodations for law enforcement officers.

2. Prioritize hiring retired peace officers and military veterans for school security. In addition, the state should create a modified school marshal training program for veterans.

3. Increase the number of school marshals by funding training this summer. Funds from the Governor’s Criminal Justice Division will pay for all training costs from June to August of this year.

4. Increase the number of school marshals that can be appointed per school. Change the law to allow one marshal for every 100 students. The current law allows only one marshal for every 200 students. The plan estimates this translates to about one marshal for every four to five classrooms.

5. Remove firearm storage requirements for school marshals who are in direct contact with students. School marshals are currently required to store their firearms in a safe while on campus, but the plan recommends repealing that requirement to make guns easier to access in the event of a crisis.

6. Revamp marshal training to focus more on firearms training. The current marshal training course includes 80 hours of course training that volunteers must complete during their vacation time, which has limited use of the program. The governor argues the training course “should be streamlined to focus primarily on material that will improve the individuals the ability to respond to an active shooter scenario.”

7. Require annual refresher courses to maintain school marshal skills.

School Safety and Security Measures

The governor had discussions with architects, law enforcement superintendents, teachers and students in the lead up to his plan and says he learned that no one-size-fits-all program exists for school security.

School hardening can take several different forms, none of which are mutually exclusive. Typical infrastructure hardening is one option.

Structural improvements could include:

  • Building front offices closer to entrances and creating vestibules where doors must be remotely unlocked before visitors can enter the school
  • Erecting barriers around campuses and stadiums that prevent vehicles from being driven into crowds or students
  • Installing metal detectors at school entrances
  • Installing security systems that monitor and record entrances, exits and hallways
  • Providing telephones or radios in every classroom so that teachers can quickly report threats
  • Installing active shooter alarm systems
  • Controlling access to campus facilities

The plan also features several school security policy recommendations for lawmakers to consider.

1. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) should review school districts’ and charter schools’ safety and security audits. TEA should create a formal review process to review districts’ school safety audits with input from the Texas School Safety Center (TSSC). This review should be done once every three years for a school district.

2. Specifically require certain community members to serve on an ISD or charter school’s safety and security committee. The individual members of a committee should include:

  • One or more representatives from the county or city emergency management coordinator’s office
  • One or more representatives from the local police department or sheriff’s department
  • One or more representatives from the school district’s police department, where applicable
  • One or more representatives from the municipality with territory included within the boundaries of the district
  • The president of the school district or charter school’s board of trustees, board of managers, or board of directors
  • A member of the school district or charter school’s board of trustees, board of managers, or board of directors other than the president
  • If a school district partners with a charter school to provide instruction to students, a member of the charter school’s board of directors or her designee
  • Two parents or guardians of students in the school district
  • The district’s superintendent
  • One or more designees of the district’s superintendent, one of whom must be a classroom teacher in the school district or charter school

3. The School Safety and Security Committee should be required to discuss with law enforcement the expansion of patrol zones to include the school district. By including school campuses in patrol zones the governor believes response times will decrease significantly.

4. The School Safety and Security Committees should periodically provide updates to the school board, including emergency plan updates twice a year.

5. Schools should be required to notify parents if a significant threat to students’ safety occurs.

Mental Health, Behavioral Threat Assessment Initiatives

The governor’s plan also includes recommendations to improve mental health support structures.

1. Expand access to Texas Tech Health Sciences Center’s Telemedicine Wellness Intervention Triage and Referral (TWITR) Project. The TWITR project created a model for identifying junior high through high school students at risk for committing school violence and intervening with those students before incidents occur. Students are identified by trained school staff and screened for risk-based behaviors by Licensed Professional Counselors in schools then provided psychiatric services by Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center (TTUHSC) over a telemedicine link. Two telemedicine psychiatry sessions are provided through the project.

2. Increase Mental Health First Aid training during the summer of 2018. Mental Health First Aid is an eight-hour, evidence-based program designed to develop the skills to identify, understand, and respond to signs of mental illness.

3. Prioritize the importance of the mental and behavioral health needs of students by freeing up counselors to focus on those needs, encourage school districts to add more counselors at the camp level and appropriate funds to fill gaps.

4. To better respond to the needs of students and school faculty following a crisis, expand the Texas Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) Network to improve outcomes. The CISM Network assists emergency service providers and first responders who have experienced a “critical incident” in the line of duty.

5. The Texas School Safety Center will partner with SIGMA Threat Management to deliver training on Behavioral Threat Assessment to school personnel.

Using Technology to Improve School Safety

1. Increase the use and awareness of the DPS “iWatch Texas” reporting system to encourage parents, students and teachers to easily report potential harm or criminal activity directed at schools, students and staff members. Texas DPS’ “iWatch Texas” app will launch on June 7 to make tip reporting easier and anonymous.

2. Increase the number of fusion centers in Texas to improve law enforcement’s ability to identify, process and resolve potential threats that appear on social media.

Improving Gun Safety

One of the more anticipated and controversial aspects of the plan (particularly for Governor Abbott, who is in an election year) was the gun safety measures. The plan discussed gun safety measures extensively, including giving the following recommendations:

1. Create a statewide case management system to give magistrates immediate access to critical information and to speed the timely reporting of court records for federal background checks.

2. Encourage Texas lawmakers 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.

3. 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.

4. Firearm storage laws should be changed so that parents of children up to 17 are obligated to securely store their firearms.

5. Change the threshold for prosecution of people inadequately storing their guns so that they are criminally liable whether the weapons are loaded or not.

6. When a child’s access to inadequately stored guns results in death or bodily injury, increase the penalty for the gun owner to a third-degree felony.

7. Promote voluntary use of gun locks

8. Require gun owners to report when their firearms are lost or stolen to law enforcement within ten days.

Providing Emergency and Active Shooter Training

1. Better prepare campus security to respond to active shooters. All school security officers in the state should receive active shooter response training. Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training (ALERRT) was mentioned specifically as a high quality option.

2. The Texas School Safety Center will deliver a workshop-based course that allows for hands-on application of high quality planning practices. First responders must collaborate when school officials are developing emergency operations plans. This course will be provided free of charge.

3. The Texas School Safety Center will partner with the I Love U Guys Foundation to provide training in the Standard Response Protocol and the Standard Reunification Method for school personnel. These trainings will be delivered using a train-the-trainer model, which acts as a force multiplier in that trainers are able to offer this material in their regional areas. These will be delivered in partnership with the I Love U Guys Foundation at no cost to schools.

About the Author

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Zach Winn is a journalist living in the Boston area. He was previously a reporter for Wicked Local and graduated from Keene State College in 2014, earning a Bachelor’s Degree in journalism and minoring in political science.

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