Texas governor unveils school safety plan
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott unveiled a plan Wednesday to improve school safety, including allowing law enforcement officers to take breaks and fill out reports in schools and increasing the number of armed school marshals in classrooms.
“This plan is a starting point, not an ending place,” Abbott told reporters in Dallas less than two weeks after authorities say a teenager shot and killed 10 people at Santa Fe High School.
“This plan puts the state on a pathway to ensure healthier families, safer schools and safer communities in the state of Texas.”
Known as the governor’s School and Firearm Safety Action Plan, the 40-page list of recommendations includes more than $120 million in funding from various sources for increased law enforcement presence in schools and training for armed marshals.
“As one Santa Fe student said … arming teachers and not knowing who is armed, that is what we need,” Abbott said. “When an active shooter situation arises, the difference between life and death can be a matter of seconds. Trained security personal can make all the difference.”
Abbott proposed “collaborative working agreements” between schools and law enforcement to include schools on regular patrols, allow officers to take breaks at schools and provide them with rooms to fill out police reports.
“My plan increases the number of school marshals by training more school marshals this summer at no cost to schools and by proposing increasing the number of school marshals per campus,” he said.
The governor’s plan calls for up to one marshal for every 100 students, allowing the marshals to carry their firearms and streamlining their training.
The plan was announced a day after Santa Fe High students returned to the school south of Houston for the first time since the May 18 shooting.
One Abbott proposal subject to legislative approval is a change to Texas’ gun storage law.
Currently, prosecutors can file a misdemeanor charge against a gun owner who failed to secure a weapon when a child under 17 gains access to a “readily dischargeable” firearm from that person’s property.
Abbott proposed changing the age limit to 18. The accused Santa Fe High shooter is 17.
In addition, the governor — a strong advocate for Second Amendment rights — said the state would make about 100,000 gun locks available free of charge to Texans but use of the devices would not be mandatory.
The plan also recommended $20 million for the expansion of mental health screening and services to help identify and remove students who pose “imminent threats of harm.”
The proposal includes strategies for “hardening” school buildings by reducing entrances and exits and the installation of “active shooter alarm systems” that would prevent students and staff from rushing out from classroom into the path of a shooter.
Implementation of the plan would be left up to individual schools districts, Abbott said.
Abbott’s announcement followed a series of roundtable discussions between the Republican governor and shooting victims, parents, school officials, law enforcement experts and others on ways to curb violence in the classroom.
Abbott said some proposals could be implemented by the start of the next school year.
In a statement, Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence co-president Kris Brown criticized Abbott’s plan, asking, “What are you planning to do about the guns?”
Brown said it is “frighteningly easy for dangerous people to get access to a gun, and this proposal does little to stop that.”
Abbott’s proposals were prompted by the slaying of 10 people and wounding of 10 others at Santa Fe High.
Authorities said student Dimitrios Pagourtzis, 17, walked into the school with a shotgun and a pistol and killed eight students and two teachers. Charged with capital murder of multiple people and aggravated assault on a public servant, Pagourtzis has not entered a plea.
The governor’s sessions last week focused on gun regulations, mental health issues, the causes of gun violence and victims and their families.
One of the participants, Round Rock police Chief Allen Banks, spoke of the dangers of allowing “somebody that is not proficient” with a firearm “in a position … where they’ll have to use deadly force.”
“Training has to be paramount,” Banks said.
Others spoke about the shortage of counselors to identify potential warning signs of violence in students.
On Tuesday, Santa Fe High students, staff and parents attended a general assembly at the school with Abbott.