Texas Governor Greg Abbott directed state education officials to take immediate steps to ensure the safety of K-12 students in light of last week’s deadly shooting at a Florida high school.
On Wednesday, Abbott sent a letter to Education Commissioner Mike Morath charging the Texas Education Agency (TEA) with specific tasks to strengthen campus safety and facility security.
“All of Texas grieves the tragedy that occurred in Parkland last week,” wrote Abbott in the letter. “As Governor, I take seriously the safety of all Texas residents, and as an American, I mourn the loss of 17 Floridians in a cruel and senseless act of violence. Immediate steps must be taken to keep our students and communities safe, with the understanding that more will be expected in the future.”
In response to Abbott’s directive, Morath released a statement. “Our schools must always be a safe place for learning,” he said. “Governor Abbott has identified specific steps that can help strengthen campus safety for all students. I have directed TEA staff to begin full implementation of his directives.”
Breitbart Texas asked Morath for additional clarification on these directives to which he commented by email, “As the governor ordered — we will implement.”
Abbott called for the TEA to make sure campuses implement multi-hazard emergency operation plans, complete safety audits, and report this data within 45 days. For those districts who do not comply with these statutory requirements in the allotted time frame, the governor instructed the TEA to publish the names of these school districts on their website and in a press release.
All reported data goes to the Texas School Safety Center, a Texas State University research center that serves as a clearinghouse on school safety information. It also provides training, resources, and technical support to schools on disaster preparedness, school shootings, and other emergency operation plans. The center was created in 1999 by then Governor George W. Bush and authorized by Chapter 37 of the Texas Education Code, which contains the 1995 Texas Safe Schools Act, and is also the basis for the state’s Student Codes of Conduct, sometimes criticized as the zero tolerance policies that lead to the school-to-prison pipeline.
The Texas School Safety Center is also tasked in the Governor’s Homeland Security Strategic Plan with key school safety initiatives and mandates. Abbott commissioned the TEA to brainstorm with the Texas Department of Public Safety, and the governor’s office on new ideas and suggested changes to “the school safety architecture.” One suggestion Abbott provided was to require “charter schools to be subject to the same school safety requirements of school districts;” another involved the handling of parental notification in certain terroristic or other threats, and “provisions for increasing the safety of portable buildings and school sporting events.”
Every three years, the Texas School Safety Center conducts a statewide campus safety survey. The information is later shared in an audit report. The resulting data helps identify strengths and gaps in school safety which, in turn, helps the center better support Texas schools. Findings from the 2014-17 Texas School Safety Center District Audit Report revealed that 99.9 percent of all school districts reported audit results. The majority, 94.8 percent, reported completing safety and security audits for all of their district facilities, both instructional and non-instructional. Nearly 89 percent reported having a functioning School Safety and Security Committee, 95.3 percent said they had a multi-hazard emergency operations plan in place. Also, 97.5 percent of districts reported their plans addressed all four emergency management phases – prevention, preparedness, response, and recovery. Likewise, 95 percent of school districts advised they reviewed their emergency plans at least once a year and updated as needed. Additionally, 98 percent of school districts reported they folded evacuation drills into their multi-hazard plans.
Unrelated to Abbott’s letter but important to note, the state also permits concealed handguns onto otherwise “gun free” public school campuses in a marshal plan made possible by the 2013 Protection of Texas Children Act. Breitbart Texas reported this program allows trained teachers to keep a firearm in a lockbox within immediate reach. A school board can instead appoint one armed marshal per 400 students, although this plan does not apply to campuses with less than 400 students. A similar 2007 guardian plan trains teachers to conceal and carry in smaller school districts. This option often appeals to remote rural districts where they do not have a police force or close proximity to one.
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