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House Public Education Committee hears 35 bills on school safety

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.

North East ATPE President Laura Herrera testified in support of a school safety bill during the House Public Education Committee hearing on March 26, 2019.

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!

House Public Education Committee holds its fourth hearing on bills

On Wednesday, March 13, 2019, the House Public Education Committee held its fourth hearing on bills. With 15 bills on the agenda, the topics covered included school start and end dates in Districts of Innovation (DOI), seizure training requirements, the assignment of students to uncertified teachers, concussion oversight teams, special education due process, suspension of students who are homeless, and adult education programs.

ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter testifies before the House Public Education Committee on March 13, 2019

ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter testified in support of House Bill (HB) 1051 by Representative Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston), which would improve and make permanent the Goodwill Excel Center, a public charter school that is currently a pilot program. Exter testified that while no program is perfect, this one is “as close as you can get” and has married Goodwill’s 501(c)(3) dollars with state dollars to do more for students. Exter stated that the program gives more money back to its students than the system takes in state funding. Goodwill covers about 41 percent of the cost of operating the school. Furthermore, the leaders of the program have taken the time to create exceedingly high standards. Under HB 1051, these standards would be locked into law should the program be expanded. In closing, Exter testified that this program serves a unique set a students who are current not served by the public education system, adult dropouts, many of whom are over the maximum age which an ISD can enroll students. The Goodwill program found a gap that sorely needed to be filled.

ATPE also supported, but did not testify on, the following bills heard on Wednesday:

  • HB 340 (Cortez, D-San Antonio): Would require students in full-day preK and K-3 to have at least 30 minutes of recess. Many registered in support of this bill, testifying on the importance of recess and play in child development.
  • HB 1276 (Rosenthal, D-Houston): Would prohibit a teacher who has less than one year of teaching experience and does not hold the appropriate certificate from being assigned to teach students in grades 1-6 for two consecutive years. This provision would exempt small districts by applying the restriction to districts with 5,000 or more students.

ATPE registered against HB 1133 by Rep. Jonathan Stickland (R-Bedford), which would change the calculation of K-4 class size limits to use a campus-wide average for each grade level rather than a hard cap applied to individual class rooms. ATPE supports state mandated class size and caseload limitations for all grade levels and instructional settings. This allows for optimal learning environments. ATPE also recommends that the state limit class size waivers and require full public disclosure of requests for class size waivers. Using the average calculation proposed by HB 1133 would mask the size of individual classes and allow for increases in some classes while maintaining a limited average. This opens the door to compromised educational quality and less individual attention for students in classes above the average. Rep. Stickland expressed that the bill was for Arlington ISD and said that he would be willing to bracket the bill to Arlington ISD. However, ATPE recommends maintaining current law on class size limits.

The committee also considered the following bills, on which ATPE took no position:

  • HB 233 (Krause, R-Fort Worth): Would prohibit DOIs from exempting themselves from school year start and end date requirements. Tourism and recreation industry representatives supported the bill, and expressed that the ability of districts to change their start and end dates negatively impacts their business, as well as the physical health of students. Those against the bill, mainly school districts, expressed that it is important for districts to retain local control over their calendar and that a shorter summer helps lessen the “summer slide” in student learning retention.
  • HB 684 (Clardy et al., R-Nacogdoches): Would require seizure recognition and related first aid online training for nurses and school district employees who have regular contact with students. Rep. Clardy calls this bill “Sam’s Law,” and said that nearly 50,000 public students have epilepsy.
  • HB 692 (White, D-Hillister): Would prohibit students who are homeless from being placed in out-of-school suspension (OSS). Rep. White suggested that the campus behavior coordinator, if available, may work with district’s homeless liaison to find an alternative. All testimony was in support of the bill and spoke to the importance of the school for students who are homeless in providing stability and quality of life.
  • HB 808 (Dutton, D-Houston): Would require that, in districts with 1,000 or more African American males, only the performance of African American male students may be considered for purposes of accountability ratings. The purpose is to track the educational progress of this specific demographic group. Chairman Dutton made changes to the bill and stated that the bill would now just require disaggregation of accountability measures by race/ethnicity and gender, to unmask certain sub-populations such as African American males.
  • HB 811 (White, D-Hillister): Would require that, in making disciplinary decisions (suspension, expulsion, Discipline Alternative Education Programs (DEAP), and Juvenile Justice Alternative Education Programs (JJAEP)), the school district board of trustees must also include in the student code of conduct that consideration will be given regarding a student’s status in the conservatorship of DFPS or as a student who is homeless. The testimony on HB 811 mirrored that of HB 692.
  • HB 880 (Calanni et al., D-Katy): This bill states that the board of trustees of a school district may not make a severance payment to a superintendent that is greater than one year’s salary under their terminated contract and eliminates text requiring that the commissioner of education reduce a district’s Foundation School Program (FSP) funding by the amount of the severance payment. This bill led to discussion about how some superintendent’s receive “big payouts” to leave districts, and that this takes away funds from students.
  • HB 960 (Howard, D-Austin): Would allow a school nurse to remove a student from certain activities if they suspect the student had a concussion. Rep. Howard and testifiers expressed that a nurse is highly qualified to make these determinations and that the bill does not change who can make the ultimate decision for a student to return to play.
  • HB 961 (Howard, D-Austin): Would require that school districts and charters that employ a school nurse include the nurse on the concussion oversight team, if requested by the nurse. Would also require that nurses on these teams take a concussion training course every two years to remain on the team. The testimony on this bill mirrored that for HB 960.
  • HB 1093 (Moody, D-El Paso): Would prohibit the Commissioner or TEA from adopting or enforcing a rule that establishes a shorter period than the maximum federal timeline for filing a due process complaint regarding special education and requesting an impartial due process hearing. Testimony was mixed on this bill, with parents and advocates supporting testifying that HB 1093 aligns state law with federal law and creates equity. Those against the bill felt that the current legal system works well enough.
  • HB 1132 (Ortega, D-El Paso): Would allow a school district that currently holds its trustee election on a date other than the November uniform date to change the date to the November date before December 31, 2024. Rep. Ortega specifically expressed that El Paso ISD faced this issue.
  • HB 2074 (Wu, D-Houston): Would prohibit districts from requiring a school counselor to assume a disciplinary role or have duties relating to student discipline that are inconsistent with their primary responsibilities. Testimony on this bill was positive, focusing on the idea that the counselor’s role is not to discipline students but rather to advocate for students.

At the end of the hearing, Chairman Huberty stated that the committee would meet again at 8:00 a.m. next Tuesday. The next hearing will likely begin with the committee substitute to House Bill 3, the school finance bill.

House Public Education Committee hears 21 bills

Yesterday was round two of bills up for public hearing in the House Public Education Committee. Twenty-one bills were discussed, covering topics including the instructional materials allotment, social work and mental health services in schools, posthumous diplomas, community schools, and cardiac assessments.

ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter testifying in the House Public Education Committee on February 26, 2019

ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter testified in support of House Bill (HB) 199 by Vice Chairman Bernal, D-San Antonio. HB 199 would allow the instructional materials and technology allotment (TIMA) to be used for the salary and other expenses of an employee who is directly involved in student learning or in addressing the social and emotional health of students. Exter testified that there is already a prioritization of the TIMA in statute requiring it to be used for materials first and that it is important to allow districts to use any leftover funds for those who deliver the instruction associated with the materials: educators. Exter further explained that the bill allows for the most efficient use of dollars and the least waste.

ATPE registered positions in support for the following bills:

  • HB 92 (Rodriguez, D-Austin): Would allow a campus turnaround plan to permit a campus to operate as a community school and would require that no campus can be closed without being given the opportunity to operate as a community school for at least two years.
  • HB 129 (Bernal, D-San Antonio): Would require a school counselor or other non-faculty health professionals at campuses with 90% or more students who are educationally disadvantaged, homeless, and/or in foster care. These individuals may not administer state assessments and are to be funded by the state.
  • HB 198 (Thierry et al., D-Houston): Would allow school districts to provide mental health services as a part of their cooperative health care programs for students and families. Would also require school district health care advisory councils to include a licensed mental health service provider and allow for school-based health centers to provide mental health services and mental health education. Additionally, the statistics obtained from school-based health centers must include mental health through this bill.
  • HB 204 (Thierry et al., D-Houston): Would include instruction on mental health within the enrichment curriculum that districts must offer. Other enrichment curricula include physical education, career and technical education, and fine arts, among others.
  • HB 239 (Farrar et al., D-Houston): Would create a new section of law to clarify and define the role of social workers in school settings.
  • HB 314 (Howard et al., D-Austin): Would allow funds allocated under the compensatory education allotment to be used for child-care services, assistance with child-care expenses, or services provided through a life skills program for student parents and students who are pregnant.
  • HB 330 (VanDeaver et al., R-New Boston): Would allow districts to exclude from dropout and completion rates students who have suffered a condition, injury, or illness that requires substantial medical care and leaves the student unable to attend school.
  • HB 422 (Allen, D-Houston): Would require that school boards annually certify to TEA that they have established district- and campus-level decision-making committees.
  • HB 455 (Allen et al., D-Houston): Would require TEA to develop a model policy on recess that encourages age-appropriate outdoor physical activities.

The following bills were also heard in committee:

  • HB 76 (Huberty, R-Humble): The Chairman laid out a substitute for this bill, which gives parents the option to participate in the screening program, rather than requiring an echocardiogram (ECG) or electrocardiogram (EKG) for any student participating in a University Interscholastic League (UIL) activity that currently requires a physical examination. The bill offers that school districts could partner with a nonprofit to provide the service or could pay for the service themselves. Lengthy testimony was heard on this bill from private citizens and representatives from school sports departments and associations, who supported the bill with stories of students who had suffered heart conditions while playing sports. On the other hand, the American College of Cardiology said that ECG/EKGs are not scientifically proven in detecting every potential cardiac defect.
  • HB 391 (Blanco, D-El Paso): Would require a school district or charter school to provide instructional materials in printed book format if the student does not have reliable access to technology at home, at parental request. Parent requests must be documented and included in an annual TEA report to the legislature.
  • HB 396 (VanDeaver, R-New Boston): Would allow the TIMA to be used for inventory software or systems for storing and accessing instructional materials and also allow the TIMA to be used for freight, shipping, and insurance, regardless of whether it is intrastate.
  • HB 397 (VanDeaver, R-New Boston): Would allow the TIMA to be used for inventory software or systems for storing and accessing instructional materials. This bill does not include the intrastate freight change. Rep. VanDeaver said that this bill is a back-up to HB 396.
  • HB 403 (Thompson, S., D-Houston): Would require each school board trustee and superintendent to biennially complete a one-hour training on identifying and reporting potential victims of sexual abuse, human trafficking, and other maltreatment of children. Additionally, the bill requires at least 2.5 hours of continuing education requirements for a superintendent every five years on identifying and reporting these issues.
  • HB 613 (Springer, R- Muenster): Would allow for districts to hold elections outside of the requirement that these elections be jointly conducted with other elections.
  • HB 637 (Gonzalez, D- Clint): Would update the codes dictating the salaries of the superintendents of the Texas School for the Deaf and the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired so that they may only be set through the appropriations process.
  • HB 638 (Capriglione, R- Southlake): Would allow posthumous diplomas to be awarded to students regardless of whether they were in the 12th grade and on academic track to graduate.
  • HB 663 (King, K., R- Canadian): Would limit the proclamation of the State Board of Education (SBOE) to 75% of the total amount used to fund the TIMA and require a review of the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) to ensure that they could be taught and mastered by students within one year. Rep. King said that this will allow districts 25% of the TIMA to spend as they see fit.
  • HB 674 (Patterson, R- Frisco): Would require that regional education service centers gather information from districts and report on which state mandates districts report are burdensome and expensive. The committee substitute for this bill eliminated reporting on federal mandates.
  • HB 678 (Guillen, D- Rio Grande City): Would allow American Sign Language to count for the graduation requirement of a language other than English.

Chairmain Huberty said that he intends to reveal a plan for his school finance bill later this week and that next week’s hearing will cover topics related to assessment. He also added that the testing companies will be in attendance at the hearing.