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What you need to know about Texas’ school safety policies | #schoolsaftey


Nimitz Middle School students line up to enter their next class Sept. 13, 2023 in Odessa. Credit: Eli Hartman/The Texas Tribune

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In response to the deadliest school shooting in Texas, lawmakers have upped legislation concerning gun and school safety. House Bill 3 passed late last year, which created the requirement for an armed security guard to be present on all campuses and also ramped up mental health resources for students.

In Texas, the responsibility for establishing the guidelines for public school safety belongs to the Texas Education Agency and Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office along with the TxSSC. These rules have been updated since the 2022 tragedy in Uvalde, but some experts worry that parents and guardians still don’t know the intricacies of school safety policy.

Brian Clason, program manager of training and education for the Texas State School Safety Center, says the best thing parents can do to protect their children is to develop relationships with teachers and school faculty to learn more about safety protocols before an emergency occurs.

“Your school leaders should know who you are, and you should know who they are,” he said.

Here’s a guide for parents and guardians on how to appropriately navigate an emergency whether it’s an active threat such as an armed intruder or bomb, natural disaster or hazmat situation.

What should parents know during an emergency?

During a school emergency, emotions can run high. The instinct to contact or go to your child’s school may seem like the right idea. However, in the parental guide for school safety created by the TxSSC, they advise parents to wait for instructions from their child’s school before acting.

Traffic from parents or guardians all at once may flood the school’s phone lines. All schools are mandated by the TEA to immediately contact parents or guardians during a threat of violence through text, email or an app. To ensure the process is as accurate and streamlined as possible, parents and guardians are encouraged to keep current contact info with the school to receive notifications and updates when necessary.

In the event of an active shooter, the TxSSC advises to refrain from calling or texting your child — as it may put themselves and others in danger if they are hiding and have not silenced their phone.

What is newly required of school districts?

New legislation that was recently passed added five requirements for school districts to enact in addition to the existing policies. School districts must:

  • Employ an armed guard at each public school campus
  • Install a silent panic button in all classrooms that immediately connects with law enforcement, fire departments and emergency services
  • Train select district employees to recognize potential harm posed by a student’s mental health or substance abuse
  • Give an up-to-date map of school campuses to the Texas Department of Public Safety, local law enforcement agencies and local first responders
  • Contact parents and select people when violence is occurring or being investigated at district campuses, facilities or district-sponsored activities

What are schools required to do to prepare for an emergency?

Drills

All Texas school districts and open-enrollment charter schools are required to conduct a set amount of drills during the school year. These drills are designed to prepare students, faculty and staff for how to react in the event of a potential safety hazard.

They include:

  • One lockdown drill per semester
  • One secure drill per school year
  • One evacuation drill per school year
  • One shelter-in-place drill per school year

Each drill ranges in protocol depending on the severity of a situation. Secure drills, which may be employed if there is criminal activity near campus, allow school activities to carry on as usual, however, no one is able to leave or enter the school. Lockdown and shelter-in-place drills both interrupt classroom activity. Lockdown drills prepare students for danger within the school, such as an active shooter, and the latter for weather emergencies. The number of fire drills are determined through consultation with a fire marshall.

Because districts may vary in the amount of drills held, parents and guardians are encouraged to reach out to their child’s school security with questions.

Arms on campus

It is now required that all schools must have an armed security officer on the premises, but it is up to the school district to determine how many officers are present at each school. These officers may be hired from a security company, local law enforcement or may be commissioned peace officers.

School employees may also be armed if they complete either the school marshal program or the “guardian plan.” Each route differs in methodology — with the school marshal plan requiring the completion of an 80-hour course, and costs upwards of $30,000, while the “Guardian Plan” requires a minimum of 16 hours and costs approximately $1,900. Completion of either route would allow school employees to be permitted to carry and possess a handgun on school premises.

Planning for an emergency

Every school district must have a multi hazard emergency operations plan, or an EOP, in the event of an active threat, severe weather or communicable diseases. EOPs must comply with the TEA’s standards for accessibility for students with impairments. Every three years, a safety and security audit must be completed. This audit is reported to the school board of trustees and the TxSSC.

Over 45,000 schools nationally adhere to the Standard Protocol Response, created by The “I Love U Guys Foundation,” which is applicable to weather emergencies or threats of an active shooter. The organization has approximately 250 contracts across Texas — primarily consisting of independent school districts, but also serves private schools, community colleges and churches.

Informational guides explaining their procedures can be found on their website alongside a map to check whether your child’s school uses its practices.

The state developed and implemented its Safe and Supportive School Program in every school district to be on the offensive of any potential safety threats.

The program requires each school district to form a school safety and security committee to oversee drills, audits and training. The committee is made up of one or more representatives from:

  • Emergency management
  • Local police department or sheriff’s office
  • The school district’s police department, if applicable
  • The president and a member of the district’s board of trustees
  • Superintendent
  • A classroom teacher in the district as appointed by the superintendent
  • A member of the open-enrollment charter school’s governing body or appointed by the governing body, if applicable
  • Two parents or guardians of students

Read more about recent school safety legislation here and find our guides to voting and more here.

The Texas Tribune is reporting on how school safety measures are affecting Texans. To share your experience with us, you can fill out this form.


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This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2024/04/24/texas-public-school-safety-guide/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.





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