There once was a time when the safety of our students and teachers at school was a given. I remember hearing that I was safer at school than at home if a tragedy struck. There was a feeling of security at school. But in today’s world, and with the most recent school shooting in May at Sante Fe, Texas; safety at schools is looked at in a very different way at all levels – from parents to local school districts to law enforcement officials and even to the state and federal governments who ask – “How are we going to protect our students and teachers?”.
Now more than ever, there is a need for better planning and implementation of measures, at all levels, to improve the physical safety of students and all other personnel while at school.
On May 30, 2018, Texas Governor Greg Abbott introduced a SCHOOL AND FIREARM SAFETY ACTION PLAN for the schools in Texas. This plan was a result from roundtable discussions with superintendents, administrators and law enforcement officials about possible improvements to the physical safety of Texas schools. There were also meetings with school shooting survivors, as well as community members impacted by school violence. The common themes of all the discussions were: 1. Making Schools Safer Places,
2. Identifying Threats in Advance and Resolving Them, and 3. Improving Mental Health Assessments and Services.
As much as we may all agree with these themes, going about addressing them at the district and campus levels is challenging and involves a lot of planning and resources through various channels. To address these, this plan has over three dozen recommendations, and a list of sources of grants and other resources, including access to nearly $70 million in funds provided by the Criminal Justice Divisions in the Office of the Governor to help schools implement these strategies. The plan does specify the funding and resources available to the Sante Fe area for their immediate needs, but it is not exactly clear who else qualifies for the funding, and how and when to get it. (I assume that more of the funding information is forthcoming directly to the school administration as it becomes available.)
Under the category of Making Schools Safer, there are recommendations to increase the Law Enforcement presence at schools, train more School Marshals, provide active shooter and emergency response training, hardening of campus facilities (with things like security fencing and controlled access to campuses), strengthen existing campus security programs, and prioritize increased federal funding toward immediate school safety improvements. In Preventing Threats in Advance, there are recommendations in areas of providing mental health evaluations, behavioral assessments, on-campus counseling services, using digital technology to prevent attacks, monitoring social media for threats, and removing students from the classroom who threaten teachers.
The final category contains several recommendations for Enhancing Firearms Safety, including promoting the use of gun locks, increase notification and awareness of the law, and modifications to the Texas gun storage law. The complete list of recommendations and supporting information can be found online at https://gov.texas.gov /uploads/files/press /School_Safety_Action_Plan_ .
The SCHOOL AND FIREARM SAFETY ACTION PLAN concludes with this statement from Texas Governor Greg Abbott: “The policy proposals outlined in this plan are a starting point – not an ending place. This plan provides dozens of strategies that can be used before the next school year begins to keep our students safe when they return to school. These suggestions identify nearly $110 million in total likely funding, including $70 million that is already or will soon be available to begin this important work. Additionally, I have currently identified a specific need for $30 million that I will work with the Legislature to fund next session. This plan also provides strategies for the Legislature to consider. The strategy I most strongly encourage the Legislature to consider is greater investment in mental health – especially crisis intervention counselors. As long as mental health challenges trouble our children, there will never be enough safety barriers we can build to protect our students. If, however, we can address the mental health challenges faced by some of our students, it will do more than make our schools safer, it will build a better future for those troubled students and for our state.”
While this plan may not calm all the safety fears of parents dropping off their kids at school every day, it does begin a concentrated effort to focus on strategies to improve school safety for everyone. – NS
By Nancy Saathoff