Three months after the Santa Fe school shooting, Texas school districts have beefed up security at their campuses, including tripling the number of teachers and other staff members authorized to carry a gun onto school property, according to a report Gov. Greg Abbott’s office released Thursday.
The 13-page document catalogs the measures school districts, agencies and organizations have taken over the summer to improve mental health services, boost law enforcement presence on campuses, create anonymous tip lines and secure building entrances, among other steps. Abbott’s report comes on the heels of school safety recommendations he released earlier this summer after holding a series of roundtable discussions that included community members from Santa Fe and Sutherland Springs, where mass shootings have occurred.
Local school districts, however, bore the brunt of the cost of many of the upgrades. The governor’s office ponied up money to train more school personnel to carry guns on campuses as well as to administer mental health and safety services to the Santa Fe community, where 10 people were killed on May 18.
“Our goal is being realized as school districts across the state continue to put immediate and long term plans aimed at prevention and protection in place,” Abbott said in a news release. “While progress is being made, there is still much work to be done and I encourage everyone in Texas to continue the discussion surrounding school safety.”
Lupe Valdez, the Democratic former Dallas County sheriff who is running against Abbott for governor, said his leadership on school safety hasn’t gone far enough. She pointed to media reports of Abbott remaining silent on 3D-printed guns and failing to embrace the idea of a “red flag” law that would remove guns from individuals considered dangerous by a judge.
“As a former law enforcement official and responsible gun owner of over 40 years, I know that there are sensible steps we can take to keep guns out of dangerous hands while staying true to the Second Amendment,” Valdez said in a statement. “Our current governor is clearly more interested in protecting the gun lobbyists’ pocket books than Texan lives.”
According to Thursday’s report, 92 new school marshals were appointed, and 73 were in the process of being trained as of Aug. 17.
Upon going through 80 hours of training, passing a psychiatric evaluation and obtaining a license to carry a firearm, district employees can become school marshals and carry concealed guns onto campuses. Marshals must have their firearm locked away if they are leading a classroom.
The report did not identify where the new school marshals work, but Austin-area district officials have said they don’t have such personnel.
Also, local school officials have put more law enforcement officials on their campuses by creating district police departments and have offered free workspace and lunch to first responders and officers to encourage them to come to their campuses. Districts also are sharing maps of their schools and live camera footage with local law enforcement agencies.
A new program that increased law enforcement’s presence on Taylor school district property led to last week’s arrest of three students who police said were threatening to attack the high school.
“Coordination from the classroom teacher to the school principal to the school resource officer led to the district arresting the students within one hour of the threats,” according to the report.
Other school district efforts highlighted in the report include:
• Some districts have added more surveillance cameras, upgraded classroom door locks, installed bulletproof glass at entrances and created 24/7 crisis hotlines for students.
• The Austin and Lake Travis districts have implemented policies that only allow clear bags to be carried into school events.
• More than 500 people were trained on school-based law enforcement, conducting behavioral threat assessments and developing an emergency operations plan.
• About 1,700 public school employees received mental health first aid training during June and July, according to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission.
Public education officials have said they will need more state funding to make these changes last.
The Austin district has budgeted $13.2 million for safety and security for the coming school year. An additional $1.7 million will pay for five more police officers and another mental health officer; more cameras and emergency call boxes at all middle and high schools that provide a direct line to the front office; and improvements to the campus-level instant background check system.
The Pflugerville district is increasing its security budget by about $113,000 to $3 million and adding 11 security officer positions. The Leander district, which has budgeted about $1.9 million for 10 officers at its high schools, among other things, last month hired its first director of safety. The Hays district increased its security budget by $125,000 to $1.8 million in part to pay for security improvements to buildings. The Round Rock district has increased its security budget by $200,000 to $2.5 million, which includes paying for 21 security officers and sergeants to staff its secondary schools.
“We are encouraged by the steps that school districts are taking to ensure the safety of their students, faculty and staff. This comes at a time when our school districts are already facing serious financial challenges, and it is important to back these efforts with reliable, long-term state funding,” said Jennifer Mitchell, governmental relations director for the Association of Texas Professional Educators.
The Texas Education Agency has requested nearly $4 million in federal grants to address school safety and mental health, according to Abbott’s report.
The governor’s Criminal Justice Division has given $5.7 million in grants to Santa Fe, surrounding communities and agencies that responded to the shooting. The money has been used to increase mental health counselors and resources, crisis response services, psychological first aid, statewide active shooter training, school marshal certifications and behavioral threat assessments, according to the report.