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Texas is one of five states that allows non-security school employees to carry firearms in schools—with permission and training.
With 80 hours of training, these armed school employees are known as school marshals.
In the past year, the number of school marshals in Texas increased by 325%, according to a new school safety state report released by Governor Greg Abbott. It provides an update on the state’s progress on recommendations made in the School Safety Action Plan, released in May 2018.
Improving School Safety?
Since the publication of the action plan, Texas passed 20 bills and appropriated $339 million to improve school safety.
There is some disagreement as to which recommendations, and subsequent legislation, will be the most effective.
For example, two 2018 suggestions included heightening police presence on school campuses and trainning more school marshals—both of which state lawmakers enacted.
However, there is no evidence that increased police officers improve school safety, according to a recent report from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
In many cases, the report shows, campus police cause harm and contribute to historic inequities underprivileged students face and higher rates of school-based arrests. Moreover, children who face traumatic events at home are more likely to engage in risk-taking behavior — resulting in run-ins with law enforcement.
These children are most in need of protective factors, like support from caring adults in schools, yet they often face harsher discipline.
To support student success, safety, and civil rights, the ACLU recommends increasing funding for student support services. That includes mental health staffing and programming; providing trauma-informed service and training; and mandating training for police on topics like adolescent development, implicit bias, communication, and de-escalation.
Some recommendations in the Texas School Safety Action Plan align with the ACLU’s recommendations and made it into legislation.
For example, in the past year, 10,000 school personnel received Mental Health First Aid training.
Several bills allow for an increase in behavioral health services and personnel in Texas schools, which will incorporate funding for increases in pay for current school counselors more and for hiring new ones. Additionally, legislation requires the creation of a task force to study and evaluate mental health services provided in public schools.
Recent School Safety Legislation in Texas
- House Bill 1: $8.9 million to Health and Human Services commission for Children’s Community Mental Health. $4.0 million to Texas State University for ALERRT. $9.1 million to Texas State University for School Safety Center. $5.0 million to Texas State University Health Sciences Center for TWITR Project. $2 million to Texas Education Agency (TEA) for funding for school safety programming.
- House Bill 3: Provides $6.5B in new funding for Texas public schools. This includes pay raises for counselors and allows schools to hire new counselors. Created a do-not-hire registry aimed at ensuring non-certified employees of schools who engage in misconduct with students are prevented from gaining employment in public and private schools.
- House Bill 18: Increases mental health training for educators and other school professionals to aid in early identification and intervention, emphasizes the importance of mental health education for students, and improves access to mental and behavior health services through school based mental health centers and the hiring of mental health professionals. Allows charter schools to establish school-based mental health centers.
- House Bill 19: Requires a non-physician mental health professional to be housed in each regional education service center to serve as a mental health and substance use resource for school districts.
- House Bill 496: Requires school districts to develop a traumatic injury response protocol, which must include the placement of at least one bleed control kit.
- House Bill 906: Creates a task force to study and evaluate mental health services provided in public schools.
- House Bill 1026: Requires positive character traits to be integrated into K-12 curriculum.
- House Bill 1374: Removes the restriction on the number of school marshals that can be appointed per campus. Contributed to a 325% increase in the number of school marshals statewide over the past year.
- House Bill 2184: Requires schools to implement a personalized transition plan when a student returns from an alternative education program back to the regular classroom.
- House Bill 2195: Requires school districts to include s p policy for responding to an active shooter emergency in its multi-hazard emergency operations plans. Requires school district peace officers and resource officers to complete an active shooter response training program.
- House Bill 3012: Requires that a student receive all course work they missed during their suspension. The bill also requires a student expelled for making a terroristic threat to enter a juvenile justice alternative education program.
- House Bill 3316: Requires the Texas Crime Stoppers Council to expand its focus on school-related crimes.
- House Bill 4342: Requires an architect and third public member to be on the Texas School Safety Center Board.
- Senate Bill 11: $100 to Texas Education Agency (TEA) for School Safety Allotment ($9.72 per student in average daily attendance) securing school facilities, providing security for the district, school safety and security training and planning, and prevention, identification, and management of emergencies and threats. This funding can be used for school-based mental health centers, the hiring of counselors, and other mental health related needs. School districts must now establish a threat assessment team on each campus to evaluate risks and threats in schools and provide appropriate interventions. Formalized minimum standards for School Safety and Security Committee memberships and requires each district committee to meeting three times per year and to consult with local law enforcement agencies on methods to increase law enforcement presence near district campuses. Requires the Texas School Safety Center (TxSSC) to establish a random or need-based cycle for reviewing and verifying school district multi-hazard emergency operations plans. $99 million to Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board for Child Mental Health Care Consortium to bring together mental health experts at the state’s medical schools to improve access to mental health care for children.
- Senate Bill 372: Charter schools may now employ security personnel and commission peace officers in the same manner as school districts.
- Senate Bill 500: $100 million to TEA for School Safety Infrastructure Enhancements. $10.9 million to TEA for Funding for Santa Fe ISD.
- Senate Bill 1230: Requires reporting of educator misconduct in a private school and ensures access to such reports by private schools.
- Senate Bill 1231: Requires the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) to notify private and charter school directors if there is an investigation of alleged child abuse or neglect on one of their employees.
- Senate Bill 1451: Prohibits a teacher from being marked as deficient in an appraisal solely based on disciplinary referrals made by the teacher or documents submitted by the teacher regarding student conduct.
- Senate Bill 1707: Allows school districts and law enforcement agencies to create a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to provide school resource officers for school safety. It limits their duties to law enforcement — not “routine student discipline or school administrative tasks.” This helps to address concerns that officers are being used inappropriately for discipline instead of general public safety.
- Senate Bill 2432: Requires a student to be removed from the classroom and placed in a disciplinary alternative education program (DAEP) if the student engages in conduct that contains elements of harassment against a school employee or their family.
Take Action: Launch “Handle With Care”
Educators and administrators in San Antonio knew kids exposed to traumatic events at home weren’t getting the support they needed at school.
So, they teamed up to start “Handle With Care,” a program where patrol officers send a notification to the district if a child was present at a traumatic incident, enabling schools to monitor and support these children.
Our team worked with the developers of the “Handle With Care” program to create the Salud America! “Handle With Care Action Pack.” It contains materials and technical assistance to help engage decision-makers, build a group, craft a notification system, implement the program, and promote the program.