Texas is one of the many states that has been grossly impacted by gun violence in schools. Recently, Governor Abbott implemented a plan to take control of Texas school safety and security. He promised $110 million in funding to aid in public schools’ safety. Abbott’s endeavor is referred to as the School and Firearm Safety Action Plan. This plan is approximately 40 pages and gives 40 specific recommendations. We will highlight the most pertinent recommendations below. According to Governor Abbott, “This plan is a starting point, not an ending place. It provides strategies that can be used before the next school year begins to keep our students safe when they return to school. This plan will make our schools safer and our communities safer.”
School Safety Reviews on June 1, 2022, Governor Greg Abbott sent a letter to Dr. Kathy Martinez-Prather, the Director of the Texas School Safety Center (TxSSC). The Governor requested that comprehensive school safety reviews begin immediately. These reviews will ensure all public schools are following the recommended protocols to maximize Texas school safety.
Emergency Operations Plan
In the letter to Dr. Martinez-Prather, Governor Abbott instructs that TxSSC guarantee all school districts’ School Safety and Security Committees meet ahead of the new school year to review their Emergency Operations Plan. Moreover, the Governor wants to ensure that all campus safety needs are fulfilled prior to the schools reopening in the fall.
Enhanced Gun Safety
Governor Abbott’s plan also includes several stipulations regarding gun control. He has recommended closing critical information gaps with a new statewide case management system. This would provide magistrates immediate access to critical information and speed up the reporting of court records for federal background checks.
The Governor’s plan also included “studying” a protective order law to keep guns out of the hands of individuals deemed mentally unfit to bear arms. Governor Abbott made sure to include in his rhetoric the stipulation “ … only after legal due process is allowed to ensure Second Amendment Rights are not violated”.
The Texas Governor also encouraged the Texas Senate and House leaders to issue an interim charge in order to “consider” the merits of adopting a red flag law. This law would allow a district attorney, police officer, a family member or school employee to file a petition seeking the removal of firearms from a potentially dangerous person only after legal due process has been provided.
Many of these proposed solutions will require the legislature’s approval. Currently, they are out of session until January. However, the governor can call a special session to address his recommendations for gun control at any time, for any reason.
Mental Health Action
Gov. Abbott also wants to expand a program statewide aimed at identifying students with mental health problems and removing them from school. This program is called The Telemedicine Wellness Intervention Triage and Referral (TWITR). It was initially implemented in 2013 as a testable model for providing mental health services to rural school districts with limited resources.
It was initiated by Texas Tech University and is currently active in 10 school districts surrounding the college. Since its inception, 25 students have been removed from school, and 44 were placed in alternative situations. In addition, 38 students have been sent to an emergency room or inpatient hospital who were in crisis.
The Governor’s new plan also includes additional crisis intervention counselors. This will allow counselors to take action when students report scenarios of violent plans against the school or community. Furthermore, Governor Abbott announced a new app called iWatch Texas that will allow anyone in the community to report suspicious people or students. Greater still, may be his recommendation for expanding the Fusion Center in Texas to allow law enforcement to identify threats made on social media.
Governor Abbott’s plan also includes rather extensive training for all personnel, including substitute teachers, regarding crisis situations. In addition, the School Behavioral Threat Assessment Team (SBTAT) will be trained and is to review procedures for each campus, ensuring all staff and substitutes are trained on their specific district and campus safety procedures.
An addition to Governor Abbott’s endeavor includes Texas schools installing active shooter alarm systems. This would give teachers, staff, and students additional time to secure their surroundings, most particularly classroom, before an active shooter could breach their area. Thus, allowing individuals the opportunity to hide or barricade their classroom.
In addition, the Texas School Safety Center (TxSSC) is instructed to provide a progress report of findings to the Governor’s office and the Legislature by October 1. The Governor of Texas calls on the TxSSC and the Texas Education Agency to develop and implement a plan to conduct random inspections to assess access control measures of Texas school districts. Governor Abbott also called for these two organizations to begin conducting in-person, unannounced, random intruder detection audits on school districts.
Perhaps the most impactful recommendation in the Governor’s plan is that the TxSSC should immediately begin working with his office and the Texas Legislature on recommendations to improve current security systems in schools. Moreover, these two groups are expected to determine the funding necessary to continue the work of hardening our schools against outside threats.
Houston Federation of Teachers Executive Vice President Andrew Dewey responded “The state needs to invest more money to make buildings secure.” (ABC Houston).
The most effective way to secure a building is to harden the perimeter. To do that it is necessary to improve the infrastructure of that building. This may come in the form of improved windows and glass doors, as well as changing the design of entries altogether.
At NGS, we have vast experience in building perimeter hardening, particularly with schools. To date, we have added security film and glass to over 100 schools across the country. In Texas alone, we have serviced 65 plus schools and currently have another 21 in progress.
There is no arguing that fortifying our schools can help prevent casualties. We simply must come together to do everything that we can to implement the necessary changes – now. NGS is here to help and support our communities, from coast to coast, in every state.