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Texas Takes Steps To Improve School Safety

by
Micah Fikes
Micah Fikes on October 18, 2018

The unfortunate reality of being a 21st century  educator is addressing the topic of school shootings. That message hit too close to home for Texans in May 2018 when a gunman killed 10 at Santa Fe High School in the Houston area.

Within two weeks Texas Gov. Greg Abbott released a 40-point “School and Firearm Safety Action Plan” that proposed changes to state laws and practices.

“This plan is a starting point, not an ending place,” said Governor Abbott in May. “This plan will make our schools safer and our communities safer.”

Portions of the governor's plan, such as training for teachers and school officials, was put in place over the summer and other parts of the plan can now be executed after the Texas Education Agency (TEA) announced it was awarded $2 million in school safety grants.

 

Governor Abbott's Plan to Improve School Safety

 

Highlights of this 40-point plan include: 

  • New gun laws: Calls for lawmakers to beef up criminal penalties for those who use guns to injure or kill, and it asks lawmakers to close loopholes in existing laws regarding firearm purchase and ownership.

  • Training for school officials: Calls for more school marshals – specially trained educators and school officials - to be hired at each campus, streamlining their training requirements and allow them to have their firearms in their possession. The State paid over the summer for those that wanted the marshal training. The state also offered free training on emergency planning, incident response, including active shooters, to school officials.
  • Texas takes Steps to improve school safety"iWatch Texas" app: Texas Department of Public Safety created the "iWatch Texas” app for reporting suspicious behavior and criminal activity. The goal is to increase awareness of this new app to schools and their students. While many school districts currently have their own suspicious behavior reporting system, this statewide app will help close any blind spots. 
  • Mental health reporting: Abbott wants the current 30-day court reporting requirement of mental health adjudications, protective orders and felony convictions lowered to 48 hours which would prevent the purchase of guns by people under such action. Over the summer mental heath first aid training was offered to school officials to help them ID potentially dangerous students. The state is looking to free up $20 million to expand a Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center mental heath screening program. Ideally a class of counselors at schools would be created to focus on mental health of students vs. the traditional counselor role of academics and college acceptance
  • Parental gun safety: Parents can currently be prosecuted if they don’t properly store "loaded guns" that end up being used in crimes by those 16 and younger. New laws would raise that age to 17 and also not require the gun to be loaded to be a crime and raise the criminal penalty from a misdemeanor to a felony.
  • Officers in Schools: Abbott wants schools to provide rooms in schools for local law enforcement so they can make regular stops and do paperwork on duty at the school
  • Teachers more power: The governor would like teachers in Texas to have the ability to remove students from their classrooms immediately if they pose a threat. Abbott wants to expand the offenses that allow schools to remove students from their schools to include cruelty to animals, any weapons-related felony, any organized crime offense or stalking.

TEA Awarded Grants For School Safety

 

Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath announced on Oct. 8 that TEA had been awarded two Students, Teachers, and Officers Preventing (STOP) School Violence Act federal grants. Each $1 million grant will be used to establish effective campus threat assessments and support mental health training for Texas school districts.

Highlights of the two grants include:

  • Statewide School Violence and Mental Health Training Program: Texas school districts can receive mental health training for staff and administrators. The training will serve students need, while providing awareness and connections to needed mental health services. Initial grants will be made available to the Alpine, Italy and Santa Fe independent school districts. Additional school districts will be added to the grant program through a competitive application process over the next two years. 
  • School Threat Assessment Teams: Grant will support the statewide development, implementation and operation of school threat assessment teams. The training program, which will be a collaborative effort between TEA, the Texas School Safety Center and SIGMA Threat Management, will provide school personnel with the skills to recognize, respond quickly to and prevent acts of violence.

“Texas remains committed to providing a safe learning environment for every student on every public school campus across our state,” according to Commissioner Morath in a release. “By focusing on these two key areas of mental health and preventative measures, we strengthen our state’s ongoing commitment to school safety.”

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Written by Micah Fikes

Micah is the Director of Curriculum & Technology. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in British Literature, from the University of North Texas and a Master of Arts in Teaching, from Louisiana College. In his previous career, Micah served for 14 years as a banker and bank manager. For the majority of this period, Micah managed the Downtown Fort Worth location of Frost Bank. In 2005, Micah finally surrendered to his true calling to be an educator. After a brief, but fulfilling term teaching high school English at Flower Mound High School in Lewisville ISD, Micah went to work for the family business, training teachers.

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