KeepHealthCare.ORG – Abbott’s school security plan focuses on mental health, more guns on campus | News
Mental health, more law enforcement and more armed teachers are key features of the School and Firearm Safety Action Plan unveiled by the governor Wednesday.
Gov. Greg Abbott announced that he was working on a school security plan after the February shooting at a school in Parkland, Fla., a plan that seemed even more urgently needed after the Santa Fe High School shooting in which 10 Texans died two weeks ago.
Abbott revealed his plan in a news conference at the Dallas Independent School District headquarters. The plan, he said, was the result of hours of meetings with teachers, students, parents, Santa Fe victims and others, including three days of roundtable discussions last week.
“This was a very robust discussion,” Abbott said. “It was essential in the immediate aftermath of the horrific shooting at Santa Fe High School that we do receive input from educators, from superintendents, from teachers, from students.”
Abbott said he also sought the opinions of law enforcement, mental health and school safety experts, state legislators and activists both for and against gun control.
“This is the type of process that requires everybody to be involved, because everybody in this entire process and everybody in the state of Texas never wants to see another occasion where innocent children are gunned down in their own schools,” he said.
State Rep. Hugh Shine, R-Temple, said his discussions with Bell County educators lead him to believe that the measures proposed to increase mental health interventions are a key aspect of the governor’s plan.
“Of the three common themes of the governor’s plan, improving mental health assessments is probably one of the most important issues because it’s very pre-emptive,” Shine said. “It actually treats the problem and not the symptom.”
The governor recommended expanding a telemedicine and mental health referral program run by Texas Tech University.
“The program uses mental health screenings to identify students at risk of committing violence, and then connects them with professionals for counseling as well as for further evaluation,” Abbott said.
He described the Telemedicine Wellness, Intervention, Triage and Referral Project as having been successful in 10 pilot school districts.
“This program has identified and removed from schools students who posed an imminent threat of harm to others,” Abbott said. “It has also led to other benefits such as decreases in truancy referrals as well as fewer discipline referrals to school.”
Abbott recommends adding $20 million in state funding to continue expanding this program.
Shine said that it is too early to say what kind of legislative action or appropriations will follow the governor’s announcement.
“I think there needs to be a little more time to digest what the governor outlined,” he said.
State Rep. Scott Cosper, R-Killeen, and state Sen. Dawn Buckingham, R-Lakeway, did not return requests for comment Wednesday.
Abbott’s plan to deal with the increasing frequency of school shooting “includes more that $120 million in funding strategies” to help schools implement his suggestions immediately without dipping into their own budgets.
“Going forward, some of the strategies will need additional funds appropriated by the Legislature, or additional allocations from the federal government,” Abbott said.
Abbott suggested establishing collaborative working agreements with local law enforcement to improve school safety. Schools in Temple and Belton currently work with local law enforcement to provide school resource officers and other campus protection as needed.
“One of the key demands heard from teachers, parents and students during our roundtable discussions was the need for greater law enforcement presence at schools,” Abbott said. “This includes things like adding schools to regular law enforcement patrols, allowing officers to use campus facilities for routine breaks, or for them to have a room located at that school where they can fill out their reports.”
This kind of more casual law-enforcement presence would offer schools a “force multiplier” of their existing security arrangements, Abbott said. He recommends that the state offer matching grants of as much as $10,000 per campus to increase the law enforcement presence at schools.
“Another demand that consistently came up during our roundtable discussions was the need for more school marshals,” the governor said. “As one Santa Fe student said at one of the roundtables, she said, and I quote, ‘Arming teachers, and not knowing who is armed, that is what we need.’ Her sentiment was shared by many students and parents.”
The school marshal program involves training and arming teacher volunteers to act as additional security at schools.
Noel Candelaria, president of the Texas State Teachers Association, released a statement criticizing the school marshal program.
“The Texas State Teachers Association strongly objects to Gov. Greg Abbott’s proposal to arm more teachers, the so-called school marshals, as a part of his plan to address gun violence in schools,” Candelaria said. “Teachers are trained to teach and to nurture, not double up as security guards.”
Abbott also said that Texas schools, by working with the Texas Education Agency, may be able to access as much as $62 million in federal funding for increasing school security.
“When it comes to school-hardening strategies, one of the most talked about was reducing the number of entrances as well as controlling the exits,” Abbott said. “You have to know who is coming into the school and you have to know who’s leaving it.”
Other prevention measures recommended by the governor include expanding campus crime stopper programs and creating a system where teachers, law enforcement and others could begin the process of having someone prevented from accessing firearms based on mental health concerns.
This mental-health adjudication system, Abbott said, would be done with legal due process, so as to not infringe on the subject’s civil rights.