By Richard Greene | Wise County Messenger
Superintendents at multiple Wise County school districts were encouraged by the security plan announced by Texas Governor Greg Abbott Wednesday.
Abbott’s plan included proposals for increasing law enforcement presence at schools, strengthening school security and providing mental health evaluations to identify students at risk of harming others. Abbott also suggested a “red flag law” that would allow law enforcement, family members, school employees or a district attorney to file a petition seeking the removal of firearms from a potentially dangerous person.
“The plan is a starting point, not an ending place,” Abbott said in a press release with his 40 recommendations and proposals. “It provides strategies that can be used before the next school year to keep our students safe when they return to school. This plan will make our schools safer and our communities safer.”
Abbott held a series of discussions last week with victims from multiple mass shootings in Texas, along with parents, educators, lawmakers and law enforcement. The roundtable and subsequent proposals followed the shooting at Santa Fe High School earlier this month that left 10 people dead and 10 others injured.
Since the February shooting at a high school in Parkland, Fla., several local districts have looked at enhancing security at its campuses.
“It is encouraging. Some of the things discussed by the governor are some of the discussions we’re having here on a local level,” said Boyd ISD Superintendent Ted West. “It’s more of a proactive approach with the additional counseling. It’s encouraging to see everyone on the same page.”
Abbott’s proposals were divided into four areas. The first was to provide immediate aid to Santa Fe with counselors and mental health providers to work with victims and first responders.
The second area was making schools safer. He called on districts to work with law enforcement for heightened police presence at the schools. He proposed increasing the number of school marshals that can be appointed per school and providing added funding for training for the marshals. Abbott also wants to see active shooter and emergency response training and infrastructure improvements to prevent security threats. He said $62.1 million in federal funding will be available for safety improvements, law enforcement patrols and the implementation of mental health programs.
“Any time the state is looking to add funding is a good thing,” said Paradise ISD Superintendent Paul Uttley. “The fact that the governor is discussing how to protect our kids is fantastic. Whether every single aspect of that plan works, well, we’ll see how it plays out. But six months ago or a year ago we weren’t even having these conversations.”
The third area addressed is preventing threats in advance. Abbott called for increasing mental health resources, including evaluations to identify students at risk of harming others, providing school personnel with training on behavioral threat assessments, and giving students more access to counselors to help with mental and behavioral issues.
Abbott wants schools to expand the list of offenses for which students can be expelled or placed in a disciplinary alternative educational program and put in place a zero-tolerance policy for students committing assault.
He also put forth plans to expand the campus crime stoppers and increase the use of the Department of Public Safety’s “iWatch Texas” reporting system to enable and encourage parents, students and teachers to report suspicious activity on campus.
“The plans laid out are very comprehensive and consider a lot of aspects from counseling to mental health,” said Decatur ISD Superintendent Judi Whitis. “To me, it’s a proactive approach and looking at preventative measures before a catastrophic event occurs. There are some new ideas. We’ve all talked about metal detectors and buildings. These new thoughts are not just about structures.”
The fourth area called for enhancing firearms safety with the possible “red flag law” and closing gaps in federally mandated background checks.
Whitis and others hope to see the legislature follow through with more funding for many of the governor’s suggestions.
Many districts are already enhancing buildings and security efforts. Decatur ISD added a second school resource officer (SRO) at the high school. Boyd ISD recently hired a SRO through the Boyd Police Department.
Wise County Sheriff Lane Akin approached Paradise, Alvord, Chico and Slidell about increasing security and adding an additional SRO.
Uttley said he appreciated Akin talking to the schools about safety and security earlier in the year, after the Parkland shooting.
“Wise County is fortunate to have Sheriff Akin, who recognized these issues and is working within the schools’ budgetary restrictions,” Uttley said. “He was being proactive about this before the governor.”
In a statement, Northwest ISD officials expressed appreciation for Abbott’s focus on school security and pointed out that the district committed $14 million to security enhancements from the 2017 bond package. The enhancements include improving the security of school entrances, upgrading classroom doors with an intruder safety function and enhancing security systems.
“Most of the dollars being spent to enhance safety in our school district mirror Governor Abbott’s call to ‘harden campus facilities,'” the statement said.
Multiple school officials pointed out the state would need to add a significant amount of funding to put many of the measures in place. The plans had a total of $110 million of funding attached to it. Chico ISD Superintendent Don Elsom said that would only be approximately $66,000 per district and fears districts would face several unfunded mandates.
“A lot of [the proposals] are things we’ve been working on,” said Chico ISD Superintendent Don Elsom. “There’s no problems with what he said. The $66,000 won’t even pay for an employee and you’re looking to add 10 to 12 employees. We need to be able to protect our students, but we have to balance that with our top priority of educating.”
View original Wise County Messenger article.