Tag Archives: guns

State leaders continue to discuss school safety measures

The office of Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued a report today on school safety, specifically highlighting actions being taken by school districts to respond to growing concerns about violence in schools and related safety measures. The “School Safety Action Plan Summary” follows an earlier School and Firearm Safety Action Plan shared by the governor’s office earlier this year. The governor also convened a group of stakeholders back in July to discuss the issue, and ATPE’s state officers were invited to weigh in.

Among the safety measures noted in the governor’s summary report out today are training programs for educators, including the Mental Health First Aid course that is available at no cost to public school employees through their local mental health authorities. The eight-hour course for which educators can earn CPE credit focuses on identifying the signs and symptoms of mental health and substance abuse problems in students. Educators can learn more about the program here.

The governor’s report out today also highlights an increase in the number of school marshals, who are school employees trained and authorized to provide an armed response to violence incidents on a school campus. The school marshal program has existed since 2013 when the legislature passed House Bill 1009 by Rep. Jason Villalba, but relatively few school districts have opted into it. As ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter noted in this article for the Dallas Morning News, “Whether it’s due to a lack of knowledge of the programs available or a lack of will to implement them, school boards have clearly not made arming educators a priority.” Money is also an ongoing issue in the debate over keeping schools safe, as school districts that are already facing deficiencies in their revenue struggle to find ample cash to pay for additional training, make building updates, or provide mental health resources.

Read the governor’s latest School Safety Action Plan Summary here. Read ATPE’s associated press statement here.

SBOE Chair Donna Bahorich addresses school safety issues as part of a federal panel on Aug. 28, 2018.

On Tuesday, Texas State Board of Education chair Donna Bahorich was a panelist in a listening session for the Federal Commission on School Safety. The event held in Montgomery, Alabama, was part of a series of listening sessions held around the country with the goal of devising strategies to improve school safety.

Bahorich talked about the mental health aspect of curbing violence in schools, including the need to remove the stigmas associated with seeking mental health treatment. “We need to do a paradigm shift around mental health,” Bahorich told the panel before sharing statistics about the prevalence of mental illness among schoolchildren. She also mentioned the concerns over expecting school counselors to fulfill both a mental health treatment function and academic counseling responsibilities, noting that Texas has been discussing whether such roles should be bifurcated. The full listening session broadcast can be viewed here. (The segment featuring Bahorich begins at 1:25:25 during the broadcast.)

Expect school safety to remain a top issue for consideration during the 2019 legislative session. A Senate Select Committee on Violence in Schools and School Security held hearings on the issue this year and released an interim report of its findings earlier this month. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates on this important issue.

Senate school safety panel discusses gun protective order laws

The Senate Select Committee on Violence in Schools and School Security met today to cover its final charge covering protective order laws, which involve temporarily restricting firearm access to certain individuals who pose extreme risk. The full charge reads:

Examine whether current protective order laws are sufficient or whether the merits of Extreme Risk Protective Orders, or “Red Flag” laws, should be considered for seeking a temporary removal of firearms from a person who poses an immediate danger to themselves or others, only after legal due process is provided with a burden of proof sufficient to protect Second Amendment rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution.

The committee first heard invited testimony from state officials, who explained current state and federal protective order laws as well as similar laws in other states. The invited testifiers also included representatives from the following stakeholder groups: The Texas District and County Attorneys Association, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, the Texas State Rifle Association, Texas Gun Sense, and an attorney who works on second amendment rights.

The issue brought forth invited and public testifiers on both sides of the issue. Some testifiers provided input on the value of protective order laws in other states, the need for revisions to current state laws, suggestions on what parameters should be used to identify those who could be subject to temporary gun removal, and other best practices for utilizing the laws to prevent gun violence in schools. However, others argued that alternative laws in other states are overly restrictive, that protective order laws fail to guarantee due process, and that Texas laws already in place can serve to intervene in order to prevent future potential gun violence by those who may pose a risk.

Now that the committee has concluded its work taking testimony on the four charges assigned by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, they are tasked with writing a report on their findings. Those findings are due to the Lt. Gov. by the first week of August. Stay tuned for more from Teach the Vote as the committee releases its report and the legislature prepares to address school safety in the upcoming 2019 session.

House committee discusses school security issues

The House Public Education Committee met Wednesday to discuss two interim charges related to school safety. Committee Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Houston) explained the significance of these charges in the wake of the tragic school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas, and a list of school safety recommendations released by Gov. Greg Abbott. Rep. Huberty opened the meeting by reading the interim charges aloud:

  • Review the effectiveness of schools’ current multi-hazard emergency operation plans. Determine any areas of deficiency and make recommendations to ensure student safety. Research violence prevention strategies, such as threat assessment, that are available for school personnel to identify students who might pose a threat to themselves or others. Identify resources and training available to schools to help them develop intervention plans that address the underlying problems that caused the threatening behavior.
  • Examine current school facilities and grounds. Consider any research-based ‘best practices’ when designing a school to provide a more secure environment. Review the effectiveness of installing metal detectors, cameras, safety locks, streaming video of school security cameras, and other measures designed to improve school safety.

Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner Mike Morath was the first to testify, and addressed the school marshals program that allows districts to arm teachers and staff who voluntarily undergo special training. Morath noted that this is an option for districts that choose to use it. He also encouraged districts to partner with local law enforcement organizations to find innovative ways to increase police presence on campus, such as by inviting officers to take their breaks on school campuses.

House Public Education Committee meeting June 27, 2018.

State Rep. Joe Deshotel (D-Beaumont) asked whether school marshal candidates must undergo a psychological evaluation in order to ensure individuals who volunteer for the position do so for the right reasons. Morath indicated that individuals must be nominated by others, and stressed the training requirements for the program.

Much of Commissioner Morath’s testimony mirrored what he told a Senate committee earlier this month. State Rep. Alma Allen (D-Houston) indicated funding is a challenge for making additional training and supports available for character education. Morath suggested that teacher certification redesign may help, but the redesign isn’t schedule until 2022.

Committee Vice-Chair Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) recommended more mental health personnel, such as trauma counselors, on school campuses. State Rep. Morgan Meyer (R-Dallas) asked the commissioner directly whether the legislature should require and fund trauma counselors. Morath punted on the question, saying needs and resources vary from district to district. On further questioning from state Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston), Morath acknowledged that mental health services could be part of a special appropriations request independent of TEA’s regular budget submission. Chair Huberty pressed the commissioner on the question – clearly indicating the committee is focused on getting more counselors into school with a potential state funding assist.

Humble ISD Superintendent Elizabeth Fagen testified regarding a number of physical security issues, such as fire alarms and building design. Fagen indicated that making the changes proposed by the governor’s office could cost between $100,000 and $250,000 per campus. Members heard from a total of nine panels, covering everything from student mental health services to how schools are designed. Representatives from groups representing school social workers and licensed specialists in school psychology emphasized the difference between their jobs and those of standard school counselors, who are primarily focused on preparing students to graduate. Public testimony consisted of a mix of school safety product vendors and advocates for students with mental health issues — the latter of whom warned against unfair discrimination.

 

Abbott outlines school shooting response plan

Texas Governor Greg Abbott unveiled his school safety action plan Wednesday in response to the deadly school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas. The 40-page plan, which can be read in its entirety on the governor’s website, is the end product of three roundtable discussions held last week in Austin which included shooting survivors, school administrators and activists on both sides of the gun control debate.

“No one provided a more powerful voice for those strategies than the victims themselves,” Abbott told reporters gathered in Dallas for the announcement.

“I am so proud and inspired by their strength and resiliency,” Abbott added. In summing up the roundtable discussions, the governor concluded, “There seems to be a consensus about the need to act.”

Abbott summarized the elements of his plan as ideas that could be put in place before the next school year begins. According to governor, this includes $70 million in funds to which the state already has access, as well as $40 million in federal funds from the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018 for which the state can compete. Altogether, Abbott claimed this adds up to $120 million in funds that do not require a legislative appropriation.

A crisis response team consisting of counselors from the National Organization of Victim Assistance (NOVA) has been deployed to Santa Fe, and the governor’s Criminal Justice Division (CJD) has an open reimbursement application. CJD grant funding is also available for costs associated with long-term behavioral health response by the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC). The state has already secured a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education for mental health services, teacher overtime, security staff and substitutes for Santa Fe ISD.

Many of the governor’s plan would require legislative action. Gov. Abbott is suggesting the state consider offering a $10,000 matching grant to schools that draw down federal funds to help pay for additional law enforcement on campus. Abbott also recommends a state policy authorizing schools to prioritize retired law enforcement officers and military veterans to serve as school resource officers.

Gov. Abbott quoted one student who said during the roundtable discussion, “Arming teachers and not knowing who is armed, that is what we need.”

Accordingly, the governor’s plan calls for increasing the number of “school marshals” – armed school personnel who have completed a specialized law enforcement training program – on public school campuses. To do so, Abbott is asking the Texas Legislature to direct funding to be used for additional training this summer at no charge to districts, as well as act to double to number of marshals allowed per campus to one for every one hundred students, up from one for every two hundred students under the current law. The plan also calls for the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to issue a letter encouraging administrators to identify personnel to participate in the program. Additionally, Abbott is asking lawmakers to reduce the training required to be a marshal and to change the current requirement that marshals keep their firearms stored in a safe to instead allow them to keep firearms on their persons.

In a nod to local control, Gov. Abbott noted that the plan does not mandate school marshals, and acknowledged that some schools will not adopt the program.

“We understand that when it comes to education, one size simply does not fit all,” Abbott told reporters.

The governor’s plan recommends expanding the state’s active shooter training through the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training (ALERRT) program, and CJD has provided a $1.25 million grant to offer the program free of charge to participating school districts and charter schools for the remainder of the calendar year.

In his remarks to media, the governor proposed reducing the number of entrances and exits in order to “harden” school campuses. This has already been incorporated into the design of many schools built following the Columbine shooting in 1999, and has significant implications regarding fire safety. The written plan recommends actions such as installing metal detectors and controlling access to campus facilities. The plan also calls for installing active shooter alarm systems separate and different from fire alarm systems.

The TEA will direct $62 million in additional federal funds under the Student Support and Academic Enrichment (SSAE) grant program to districts for improving campus safety, such as metal detectors as well as mental health programs.

Gov. Abbott spoke of the need to prevent people from becoming shooters in the first place, and recommended doing so by expanding the Telemedicine Wellness Intervention Triage and Referral (TWITR) project headed up by Texas Tech University, which current being utilized by ten different school districts to identify potential threats before they manifest. Abbott is asking lawmakers to provide $20 million to expand program further, eventually making it statewide.

In order to further prevent threats from turning into violence, Abbott recommends expanding campus crime stopper programs. The plan aims to make it easier for students to anonymously report suspicious behavior through an upgraded mobile app called iWatch Texas, which will is scheduled to launch June 7. Concomitant with this, Abbott recommends increasing the number of fusion centers that identify threats that appear on social media in order to allow law enforcement to intervene before an event occurs.

Abbott further suggested allowing educators to remove threatening students from the classroom through a zero-tolerance policy for students who commit assault. Noting that the 85th Texas Legislature passed a law removing teachers who assault students, the governor is now asking legislators for a law removing students who assault teachers.

The governor also outline a number of steps aimed to enhance gun safety.

“I can assure you, I will never allow second amendment rights to be infringed, but I will always promote responsible gun ownership,” said Abbott.

The governor pointed to current law requiring gun owners to safely store firearms from children under the age of 17. Because the Santa Fe shooter was 17 years old, his parents cannot be criminally charged under this statute. Gov. Abbott suggested lawmakers change the law to apply to “children 17 years of age and younger.”

Furthermore, the governor advocates requiring gun owners report lost or stolen firearms to police, and requiring courts report mental health adjudications within 48 hours, instead of the current 30 days, in order to prevent mentally ill people from purchasing firearms. Gov. Abbott is asking lawmakers to consider mental health protective order procedures that would allow family or law enforcement to remove firearms from the home of someone who has proven to be a danger to themselves and others. This would be accomplished in a manner respectful of due process, and for a specified period of time.

Gov. Abbott concluded by listing his top recommendation as greater investment in mental health, especially in crisis intervention counselors. Abbott called the plan outlined Wednesday “a starting point, not an ending place.”

The governor disclosed he will soon be participating in a program to educate the public about safe storage and use of gun locks, as well as pursuing a grant program to provide $1 million for 100,000 free gun locks.

Asked what must change over the summer, Gov. Abbott answered that schools must ramp up personnel and strategies to show a greater law enforcement presence. Additionally, the governor said schools should focus on active shooter training, going back over school safety plans and look into implementing TWITR program.

Questioned about calls from a handful of lawmakers for a special session this summer focused on school shootings, Gov. Abbott told reporters he remains open to calling one if there is a consensus of legislators in favor of passing specific legislation. Abbott also correctly noted the constraints of the legislative process would make any laws passed in a special session unlikely to take effect before the next school year begins.