Texas Senate Proposes New Measures To Strengthen School Safety

The Texas Senate unveiled its priority school safety bill on Friday, which would establish a safety and security department within the Texas Education Agency. Furthermore, the legislation would give the education commissioner more direct authority to compel school districts to implement active-shooter safety protocols.

Senate Bill 11, introduced by Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, strengthens current truancy laws. According to reports, the Uvalde shooter was chronically absent beginning in sixth grade and dropped out of high school. Nichols stated during a Senate committee meeting last month that current truancy laws lack “teeth” with parents.

The new department, which has the approval of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, will oversee mandated school safety measures such as safety plans.

Since the 2018 Santa Fe High School shooting, these plans, which must include active-shooter strategies, have been required to be filed with the Texas School Safety Center, a think tank at Texas State University established by lawmakers in 2001.

Texas Senate Proposes New Measures To Strengthen School Safety
Texas Senate Proposes New Measures To Strengthen School Safety

However, a three-year audit in 2020 discovered that only 200 of the state’s 1,022 school districts had active-shooter policies as part of their plans, despite the fact that most districts had reported having them. The audit also revealed that 626 districts lacked active-shooter policies. According to the audit, another 196 had active-shooter policies, but they were insufficient. Furthermore, the report discovered that only 67 school districts had viable emergency operations plans in total.

According to the proposed legislation, the education commissioner will develop rules for security audits and other emergency operation plans in consultation with the safety center. The bill would also establish similar safety plans for community colleges.

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Following the Uvalde shooting, Gov. Greg Abbott directed the agency to establish such a department and appointed former US Secret Service agent John P. Scott as the agency’s chief of school safety and security.

Gov. Greg Abbott posted a Tweet related to school choices. you can see the Tweet below.

The bill makes it easier for the Education Department to impose harsh penalties on districts that fail to comply. Currently, the education agency must be notified of noncompliance by the safety center before taking action to impose a conservator or a board of managers to replace the elected school board.

The new bill would give the agency direct oversight and allow Education Commissioner Mike Morath to take over a school district and its board if it fails to meet security standards. This authority is similar to current law, which allows the commissioner to replace a school board and its superintendent if the district or a school campus receives a failing grade for five years in a row.

Establishing A School Safety Review Team

The new department will also establish a school safety review team in each of the state’s education service centers, which provide support to school districts across the state. These teams will conduct vulnerability assessments on all school campuses in their respective regions twice a year. According to the bill, these education service centers will serve as school safety resources for districts.

The bill would also raise the number of money districts receives for improving campus security from $9.72 to $10, plus an additional dollar for every $50 the district’s payment exceeds $6,160. It would also include a $15,000 base payment per campus.

In both the House and Senate budget proposals released in January, funding for school safety improvements is estimated to be around $600 million. In terms of truancy, the bill would tighten the number of days students can be absent before their parents are summoned to court.

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A school district must notify parents at the start of the school year that if their child has six or more unexplained absences in the same school year, they are subject to prosecution and the child may be sent to court. According to reports, the shooter in Uvalde was

When a child enrolls, school districts will also receive a copy of his or her disciplinary record as well as any threat assessments. Shannon Holmes, executive director of the Association of Texas Professional Educators, said the bill contains provisions that Texas educators support and that she is pleased that Nichols will lead the charge in the Senate.

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