The Texas School Safety Update, a report highlighting progress made to keep students and teachers safe at school, was released by Gov. Greg Abbott on Aug. 27.
The report gives Texans an update on efforts by the governor’s office, the Legislature and state agencies toward implementing recommendations made in the School Safety Action Plan released on May 30, 2018 and the subsequent update in August 2018.
The first indication of progress listed in the report is that the state’s “Mental Health First Aid” program saw a 37-percent increase in the number of public school district employees and school resource officers trained in fiscal year 2018 compared to fiscal year 2017, and more than 10,000 school personnel were trained in fiscal year 2019, which ended Aug. 31.
“Because the safety of our students in Texas classrooms today is a top priority, I made school safety an emergency item in the 86th Legislative Session — and state leaders took substantial steps to deliver on this priority,” Abbott said.
“I am grateful for the bi-partisan efforts of legislators that led to significant improvements in enhancing the safety of Texas schools, expanding students’ access to mental health resources, and increasing support for teachers facing classroom challenges. As we look to the possibilities that a new school year may bring, school administrators, parents, teachers and lawmakers must continue the conversation on school safety and continue to make the effort to keep our students safe in an affirming environment that strives for excellence and growth,” the governor added.
Among other areas of progress listed in the report are:
1. Since August 2018, the Texas State School Safety Center (TxSSC) has held seven threat assessment workshops with 425 participants, and will host seven more workshops this August;
2. The 2020-21 state budget provides $5 million to Texas Tech Health Sciences Center for the Telemedicine Intervention Triage and Referral Project, a model for identifying students at risk for committing school violence and intervening with those students before acts of violence occur; and
3. Senate Bill 11, which took effect June 6, provides districts with $100 million in funding for school-based mental health centers, the hiring of counselors and other mental health needs, and provides $99 million in funding for the Texas Mental Health Care Consortium.
Furthermore, the passage of SB 11, along with HB 1 and SB 500, makes available some $339 million in school safety funding for various agencies and entities, including the Health and Human Services Commission, the Texas Education Agency, Texas State University and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.
AG joins in court brief
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Aug. 23 co-signed a friend-of-the-court civil rights-related brief filed with the U.S. Supreme Court.
Paxton and the attorneys general of 13 other states, and one governor, urge the high court to overturn lower court cases that the coalition says would expand provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that prohibit discrimination based on a person’s sex to include sexual orientation and gender identity.
DPS calls for extra caution
As schools reopened across Texas and classrooms filled, the Texas Department of Public Safety put out a reminder that drivers need to slow down in school zones.
DPS urged drivers to be extra careful around school buses, to follow all traffic laws, and to stay alert around schools and the surrounding areas where children may be walking and playing. DPS troopers “won’t tolerate reckless driving that puts children in harm’s way,” said the agency’s director, Steve McCraw.
If a school bus has alternating flashing red signals visible from the front or rear, drivers must stop before reaching the bus. Drivers can only proceed if the flashing lights are no longer activated; the driver signals you to proceed; or the bus has resumed driving. Approaching drivers do not have to stop for a school bus that is operating a visual signal if the roadway is separated by a physical barrier or an intervening space.
Many new laws take effect
Some 820 bills that passed during the regular session of 86th Texas Legislature that ended May 27 took effect Sept. 1. A complete listing of those bills, including links to their text, analyses, fiscal notes and witness lists, can be found under the “Reports” tab at capitol.texas.gov.– Ed Sterling works for the Texas Press Association.