Q: I caught only the tail end of the Governor’s press conference this week about school safety. Can you tell me what I need to know?
A: Yes. Governor Abbott held a press conference on Wednesday, May 30 to unveil his “School and Firearm Safety Action Plan.” The plan has been released and there is lots to talk about.
The plan immediately calls for funding assistance to Santa Fe ISD following the tragic shooting on May 18, 2018, in addition to crisis response counselors and mental health resources for that district for the 2018-19 year. The plan also includes long-term goals for school safety for all Texas school districts, as well as additional sources of state and federal funding/grants that schools can utilize to implement safety and security measures. Below is a summary of the key aspects of the plan that we feel you need to know.
- Increasing law enforcement presence in public schools: The plan encourages schools to work with local law enforcement to heighten police presence on school campuses. Suggestions in the plan include adding campuses to regular patrol routes and the option of allowing local law enforcement to use school facilities for breaks, lunch or to complete paperwork. The plan also encourages schools to hire retired law enforcement officers and military veterans for school safety. These decisions can be made and solidified via a carefully drafted MOU for implementation during the 2018-2019 school year.
- Increased School Marshal training (free of charge this summer!): The plan provides for full state funding of School Marshal training for Summer 2018. Expect to receive a “To the Administrator Addressed” letter no later than June 8, 2018 from TEA with details about how to obtain the free training for your employees. The plan calls for an increase in the number of marshals that can be appointed per campus (currently 1 per 200 students). Eliminating the locked box storage requirement for those having direct contact with students also makes the Marshal plan attractive to those wanting “instant access” in a rapid fire situation. These changes are intended to incentivize the use of the School Marshal plan over the common “Guardian” plans currently being adopted by districts. The Governor’s Action Plan recognizes the burdensome requirements involved in the School Marshal program (e.g., 80 hour training requirement) and seeks to streamline the process for increased implementation by districts.
- Provide active shooter and emergency response training: The plan calls for an increase to general active shooter and emergency response training (apart from the specialized training received by Marshals and other armed employees). This would equip campus administration and security personnel with best practices and procedures in an emergency situation (think “shelter in place” procedures and how to properly barricade a classroom door). The Texas School Safety Center will offer a free workshop-based course for school security personnel. Campus security could then use strategies from the workshop to train staff and students. Stay tuned for more information on this workshop from the Center and TEA.
- “Hardening” of campus facilities: The plan details various strategies for schools to “harden” their facilities. This includes improving the infrastructure and design of school campuses to adequately prevent security threats, including possible use of metal detectors and deadbolts for doors, and greater control of entrances and exits. Active shooter “alert systems” were also discussed, which could be placed on each campus and would send out a message to local police and all campus staff if pulled inside the school. Law enforcement could then trigger an “Amber Alert” type of notification, allowing for quicker response from both on and off-duty law enforcement in the area. The plan is clear that any “school hardening” techniques will remain squarely within local control and should reflect the specific infrastructure and design challenges of each school.
- Increased funding for safety/security: The Governor’s plan states that TEA will work with school districts to prioritize over $62 million in federal funding to be used toward immediate school safety improvements. These “improvements” could include utilizing the new federal funds for school hardening, increased law enforcement patrols, implementation of mental health interventions and other programs to increase school safety.
- Prevention of threats in advance: This part of the plan details goals and strategies for identifying students at risk for mental health issues or those at risk for harming others, similar to the “Telemedicine Wellness Intervention Triage & Referral” (TWITR) project currently being tested in Lubbock ISD and 10 school districts in Texas. The Governor indicated that the state is going to immediately implement the TWITR Program in an additional 10 school districts, while securing an extra $20 million in state funding to expand the program state-wide. Increasing the use of digital technology to monitor for online threats, and the ability to report hostile behavior anonymously is also contained within the plan.
The Governor’s School and Firearm Safety Action Plan is comprehensive and detailed, yet still has many unanswered questions that will require additions and changes to Texas statutes by the legislature, as well as new rules and guidance from TEA. You can expect to hear much more from TEA regarding school safety this summer. In the interim, we suggest review of your district’s particular security challenges and exploration of ways your district can take advantage of the many strategies offered in the Governor’s plan.
You can read the Governor’s full action plan here.
You can watch the full conference here.