On Tuesday, March 26, 2019, the House Public Education Committee heard 35 bills on various issues related to school safety. Some bills focused on student-centered measures such as mental health supports and counseling services; some focused on administrative structures such as threat assessment teams and trauma-informed care policies; some focused on school hardening and increasing the presence of law enforcement in schools; and a few focused on funding.
Those who testified during the lengthy hearing yesterday tended to fall into three camps. Those with an interest in mental health, counseling, educational equity, and disability rights overwhelmingly supported bills that focus on the care of students, citing research that shows these intervention methods work to make schools safer. Other testifiers were interested in gun rights aspects of the bills and either wanted to ensure that the Second Amendment was upheld in school safety policies or wanted to keep increased levels of firearms out of schools. Lastly, some witnesses, such as those representing school districts, expressed the long-term needs for both school-hardening structural changes and programmatic and service changes relating to counseling, mental health, and emotional health.
Rep. Greg Bonnen’s (R-Friendswood and the Speaker’s brother) House Bill (HB) 17 was the largest bill of the day and incorporated many of the concepts that other bills on the agenda also offered. Rep. Bonnen shared a newer version of his bill with the committee that would do the following:
- Allow the Commissioner of Education to create rules on best practices for safe and secure facilities.
- Require local mental health authorities (LMHAs) to employ a non-physician mental health professional as a resource for school districts.
- Require that a trauma-informed care policy be included in school district improvement plans and address awareness and implementation of trauma-informed practices through TEA-approved training for new employees (which may also be incorporated into staff development).
- Create an exception for minimum minutes of operation so that educators can attend a school safety training course.
- Require multi-hazard emergency operations plans to incorporate the work of the Texas School Safety Center (TxSSC) and follow stringent preparedness guidelines. District multi-hazard plans would be reviewed and districts would be given a chance to make corrections. If districts fail to submit or correct the plan, they would be subject to conservatorship, just as with accountability sanctions.
- Require a district that receives notice of noncompliance for their security and safety audit or their multi-hazard plan to hold a public hearing and provide information to the public.
- Require that school safety and security committee participants include a variety of new individuals, including law enforcement representatives, a teacher, and parents.
- Establish threat assessment teams for each campus, which would be responsible for determining the appropriate method of assessment and intervention, as well as identifying and reporting students who risk a serious threat of violence to others or themselves. The TxSSC must create model threat assessment team policies and procedures, including procedures for the referral of a student to an LMHA, health care provider, or special education evaluation.
- Create a “school safety allotment” at an unspecified amount to be used to improve school safety and security through school facilities and technology, law enforcement and school marshals, and training and planning (including prevention such as mental health personnel).
- Allow bonds to be issued for retrofitting school buses or purchasing/retrofitting other vehicles for safety or emergency purposes.
ATPE did not testify orally on any of the bills heard yesterday, but did register a position in support of the following bills:
- HB 1312 (Moody, D-El Paso): Would allow a district to contract with a LMHA to provide mental health services. The Human Health and Services Commission (HHSC) would let school districts enroll as providers so that they can receive Medicaid reimbursements for providing the services.
- HB 1496 (Metcalf, et al., R-Conroe): Would require law enforcement officials who learn of a school violence threat to let the superintendent know as soon as possible. The superintendent would then notify appropriate personnel.
- HB 1754 (Bonnen, G., et al., R-Friendswood): Would create a $50 per student “school safety allotment” that can be used for school hardening and prevention and treatment programs for addressing adverse childhood experiences.
- HB 2511 (Allen, D-Houston): Would require campus improvement plans to include goals and methods for bullying prevention and dropout deterrence, including providing teacher continuing education and materials or training for parents.
- HB 2994 (Talarico, et al., D-Round Rock): Would require the commissioner to develop mental health training materials for school districts to use. The commissioner must consult with teachers and mental health professionals and make the training available through various methods.
- HB 3411 (Allison, R-San Antonio): Would amend the list of programs created by TEA, the Department of State Health Services (DSHS), and Education Service Centers (ESCs) to include programs and practices in early mental health and substance abuse prevention and intervention, positive school climate, and suicide prevention, intervention, and postvention (healing). The suicide prevention programs should include components that prepare personnel to assist students in returning to school following a mental health concern or suicide attempt. The bill would require districts to develop practices and procedures regarding the programs on the list.
The following bills were also heard by the committee:
- HB 366 (González, M., D-Clint): Would direct the State Board of Education (SBOE) to adopt age-appropriate and accurate Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) related to relationship, communication, and decision-making skills.
- HB 567 (Capriglione, R-Southlake): Would adjust a district’s wealth per student by deducting revenue spent on campus security during the previous year.
- HB 734 (Huberty, R-Humble): Would allow board members and superintendents to carry a concealed or open handgun to a board meeting.
- HB 876 (Allen, et al., D-Houston): Would require ALL districts with district police or school resource officers (SROs) to adopt a training policy. Current law only applies to districts with 30,000 or more students.
- HB 973 (Metcalf, et al., R-Conroe): Would require that the TxSSC report to TEA on district non-compliance with certain safety requirements and allow TEA to impose a penalty up to the amount of the superintendent’s salary.
- HB 974 (Metcalf, et al., R-Conroe): Would change the cycle of the safety and security audit from three to two years and require districts to check the ID of a person who is coming to the school for a non-public event. Current law leaves checking IDs for non-public events up to districts.
- HB 975 (Metcalf, et al., R-Conroe): Would require trustees to complete school safety training, as developed by the SBOE and the Texas School Safety Center.
- HB 976 (Metcalf, et al., R-Conroe): Would require trustees and charter school governing board members to complete school safety training and make charters subject to certain safety requirements. The bill also establishes an emergency management coordinator for each district to lead the security and safety committee and creates threat assessment teams.
- HB 1026 (Bohac, R-Houston): Would require the SBOE to incorporate character trait instruction into the K-12 TEKS. Adds “gratitude” to the existing list of character traits under current law and requires each school district and charter to adopt a character education program and submit it to TEA. The agency would collect data and designate “Character Plus Schools” that demonstrate a correlation between the program and increase in attendance and decrease in discipline.
- HB 1106 (Swanson, R-Spring): Would eliminate the current cap on school marshals (not more than the greater of one per 200 students or one per building on each campus) for public and private schools.
- HB 1143 (Hefner, R-Mount Pleasant): Would prevent districts and charters from regulating the manner in which guns or ammunition are stored in vehicles on school property for those who hold a license to carry.
- HB 1387 (Hefner, R-Mount Pleasant): Would allow an increase in school marshals by changing the ratio from one marshal per 200 students down to one marshal per 100 students for public and private schools.
- HB 1467 (Talarico, et al., D-Round Rock): Would mandate ratios of mental health professionals to law enforcement based on school district size, decreasing the ratio for smaller districts, and allow districts to request a TEA waiver if they can’t comply. The waiver would require districts to document that they tried to hire mental health professionals and require that law enforcement complete training.
- HB 1471 (Darby, R-San Angelo): Would allow, under an optional board policy, veterans and retired law enforcement to volunteer to provide security services and carry a handgun at schools. The program would be included in the district’s multi-hazard emergency operations plan and include training for each volunteer.
- HB 1623 (Coleman, D-Houston): Would update staff development to require training on trauma-informed practices, which, in addition to suicide prevention training, would have to take place at least once every five years. The bill would update the list of programs that DSHS, TEA, and ESCs create to specify that trauma-informed practices must include training on recognizing trauma in students; recognizing warning signs such as lowered academic performance, depression, isolation; and, learning to intervene effectively. It would make charters subject to the new requirements, require reporting to TEA on the number of personnel trained, and withhold funds for mental health supports if a district or charter doesn’t report.
- HB 1640 (Martinez, D-Weslaco): Would create a life skills pilot program on each high school campus in certain counties.
- HB 1825 (Cortez, D-San Antonio): Would require information shared by law enforcement with a superintendent on student offenses to include whether it is necessary to conduct a threat assessment or prepare a safety plan related to the student.
- HB 1959 (Hefner, R-Mount Pleasant): Would allow those with a license to carry to have their firearm/ammunition in the parking lot for a private school.
- HB 2195 (Meyer, R-Dallas): Would require an active shooter emergency policy to be included in a school district’s multi-hazard emergency operations plan.
- HB 2653 (Rosenthal, D-Houston): Would require the establishment of threat assessment teams in charter schools and public school districts.
- HB 2654 (Rosenthal, D-Houston): For new construction, would require a school district to follow building standards that include a key-less lock on each entrance, narrow classroom door windows, window coverings, a PA system, and security cameras. Charters would also be subject to the regulations for new buildings. The bill would require live feed from the cameras to be available to police, testing the PA system regularly, and storing an active shooter medical kit. School districts wouldn’t be able to seek bond guarantees without following the standards.
- HB 2655 (Rosenthal, D-Houston): Would require an active shooter protocol to be included in the multi-hazard emergency operations plan and that school law enforcement complete an active shooter training.
- HB 2997 (Talarico, et al., D-Round Rock): A newer version of the bill offered by its author in yesterday’s hearing would extend suicide prevention training to all school employees and require districts and charters to provide the training once every four years.
- HB 3018 (Allison, R-San Antonio): Calls for the SBOE to require districts to incorporate digital citizenship instruction into its curriculum, which includes healthy online behavior.
- HB 3235 (Ramos, D-Richardson): Would require suicide prevention training at least once every two years. Current law leaves the frequency of the training up to TEA, which has determined that employees only have to complete it once.
- HB 3290 (Toth, R-Woodlands): Would require districts to include a special threat response policy in their multi-hazard emergency operations plan, as coordinated with an emergency services agency. The policy must use “standard nomenclature,” conduct annual drills, be submitted to the commissioner and director of public safety, include protocols for law enforcement, and be consented to by each emergency services agency.
- HB 3470 (Allen, D-Houston): Would allow the Texas School for the Deaf and school districts to engage with law enforcement for the provision of school resource officers. Outlines that school boards must determine the duties of the school law enforcement and include these in certain documents. The bill would prohibit these individuals from engaging in routine student discipline duties, school administrative tasks, or contact with students not related to law enforcement.
- HB 3718 (Parker, et al., R-Flower Mound): Would require a trauma-informed care policy to be included in the district improvement plan. The policy should increase staff and parent awareness of trauma-informed care, implement trauma-informed practices, and address available counseling options for students. The training used to implement the policy should be provided through evidence-based programs for new and existing employees. Districts must maintain the names of those who complete the training and make a reasonable effort to partner with a community organization to provide free training if they don’t have the resources.
Next week, House Bill 3, Rep. Dan Huberty’s big school finance bill, heads to the House floor for debate. Considering the large number of legislators in the House who have signed on to the bill, it is expected to pass easily. However, floor debate opens up the bill to amendments that could change it. Follow @TeachtheVote and the ATPE lobbyists on Twitter (@ATPE_AndreaC, @ATPE_MontyE, @MarkWigginsTX, @ATPE_JenniferM) and continue reading our blog posts here for updates!