Texas bill would require all schools to have armed safety officers | #schoolsaftey

Dive Brief:

  • Every public school in Texas would be required to have at least one armed security officer — or a licensed school employee carrying a firearm — under a comprehensive bipartisan school safety bill sent to Gov. Greg Abbott last week for signature. 
  • School boards would determine the appropriate number of armed security officers for each campus. These employees would not, however, be able to make arrests unless responding to “an emergency that poses a threat of death or serious bodily injury.” 

  • Also under the bill, districts would have to provide mental health training — to be reimbursed by the Texas Education Agency — for employees who regularly interact with students. In addition, the legislation would require districts to supply school building emergency response maps and optional walkthroughs to the Department of Public Safety, first responders and local law enforcement.

Dive Insight:

The passage of the school safety bill by the Texas State Legislature, on May 28, came just a few days after the first anniversary of the Robb Elementary School Massacre in Uvalde, Texas, in which a gunman killed 19 children and two teachers.

Opponents of the bill and gun reform advocates worry that requiring an armed person at schools will only endanger students. 

“Though increased safety is needed in Texas schools, it is perplexing and infuriating that Texas lawmakers believe the way to achieve this is by arming more individuals, including teachers across the state,” said Kathryn Vargas, a volunteer with Texas Moms Demand Action, in a statement on the state House’s passage of the bill in April. “More guns do not equal more safety, otherwise we would already be safe.”

The law enforcement response to the Uvalde tragedy came under national scrutiny after nearly 400 law enforcement officers took 72 minutes to stop the shooter. Pete Arredondo, the Uvalde school district police chief, was ultimately terminated after much of the blame for the police response was placed on him. 

Other concerns about Texas’ recently passed school safety bill include the financial burdens it might place on districts.

Sen. Roland Gutierrez, who representes Uvalde and voted against the bill, said in a statement that “school districts and their employees have already been asked to do more with less.”

“Now we are going to add an unfunded mandate to have a security officer at every single public school,” he added. “It is sick and twisted that we have the largest budget surplus in Texas history and we aren’t doing a damn thing to keep our kids safe. We aren’t doing anything to prevent another Uvalde.” 

Gutierrez filed his own bill in February that would have required the state to fully fund officers at every public school.

Supporters of the bill, including Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan, say it would improve school safety and bolster support for teachers.

The bill’s passage marks another step forward in the ongoing repercussions of Uvalde nationwide, which have ranged from White House and congressional action on school safety to local and state proposals.

Many state-level actions have included pushes to arm more personnel on school grounds, including teachers. 

In April, for example, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves signed a law that would allow armed school faculty starting July 1.

Texas lawmakers also advanced a bill last month that would compensate school employees with stipends of up to $25,000 per school year if they are trained to carry a firearm on K-12 campuses and buses. That legislation is currently listed as pending in the Texas Senate Education Committee.

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