Texas Governor Greg Abbott unveiled a comprehensive new plan to enhance school safety during a Dallas-held news conference on Wednesday. His recommendations come nearly two weeks after an active shooter killed eight students and two teachers plus injured many others at Santa Fe High School.
“This plan is a starting point, not an ending place,” said Abbott. He revealed some of the details of the 40-page School and Firearm Safety Action Plan. “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.”
Many of the governor’s 40 recommendations are the result of three round table discussions Abbott held last week in Austin with state legislators, educators, law enforcement officials, policy experts, and Santa Fe High School shooting survivors to get input on how to make schools safer.
The governor proposed numerous ways to harden public and charter schools. They included increased law enforcement presence, stricter building entry and exit way controls, and active shooter alarm systems, which, unlike fire alarms, would trigger educators into enacting appropriate safety protocols. He touched upon social media monitoring strategies and a student “I Watch Texas” app to anonymously report safety concerns. His plan recommends removing from classrooms students who threaten teachers or other students.
Abbott also highlighted Texas Tech University’s “telemedicine” program as an effective measure to thwart active shooters. He suggested allocating $20 million to expand the program statewide to identify students at risk of committing violent acts. Breitbart Texas reported the university launched the Telemedicine, Wellness, Intervention, Triage, and Referral Project (TWITR) in 2014 following the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting. It is a virtual counseling program that has been highly successful in 11 West Texas school districts in identifying students with mental or behavioral health issues and addressing the underlying issues.
Additionally, the governor suggested arming more administrators and teachers through school Marshal programs. A growing number of Texas school districts already have implemented these and similar Guardian programs.
Abbott, a strong supporter of the Second Amendment, offered up a gun lock giveaway and proposed requirements that parents keep guns safely stored and out of reach of children aged 17 or younger.
“I can assure you, I will never allow Second Amendment rights to be infringed, but I will always promote responsible gun ownership,” said Abbott. “That includes keeping guns safe and keeping them out of the hands of criminals.”
He said he intends to ask leaders in the Texas Senate and House to issue an interim charge to consider the merits of adopting a “red flag” law which would permit law enforcement, a family member, school employee, or a district attorney to file a petition and seek the removal of firearms from individuals deemed potentially dangerous, but only after legal due process.
The governor has not ruled out calling a special legislative session to pursue this, although he said it would require a “consensus.”
Abbott’s safety plan calls for more than $120 million in funding through grant dollars to help school districts implement these measures, although, the governor emphasized many of these strategies are recommendations and not “a mandate,” as “different schools have different needs.”
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