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A joint hearing of the House Committee on Homeland Security and Public Safety chaired by Rep. James White and the House Select Committee on Youth and Health Safety chaired by Rep. Joey Lozano (27 members total on the joint committees) was held June 23, 2022.

The three interim charges discussed were related to implementation of SB 11 (86th Legislature), examination of strategies to prevent acts of violence, and evaluation of the preparedness of and coordination between state and nongovernmental entities for the prevention of and response to mass violence.

The committee heard from 20 panels during invited testimony, including a panel with Dr. Kevin Brown, TASA executive director, Dr. Jeremy Thompson, TASA member and Ponder ISD superintendent, and Jeff Clemmons, TASB director of facilities services. Watch the full conversation beginning at the 7:35:00 mark.

Brown began by saying there was no greater priority than the safety and security of the children and staff in school communities. In response to the question from the joint committee as to what can be done, Brown provided the following:

  • Provide a significant increase in the School Safety Allotment.
  • Acknowledge that cost and availability of qualified individuals may lead to challenges in providing a school resource officer for every campus across the state.
  • Consider a minimum floor for base funding.
  • Establish a menu of best practices that doesn’t pigeonhole schools.
  • Consider the softening of schools and providing mental health services for children.
  • Consider ways to address discipline issues. There are challenges when receiving districts don’t get enough information on transfer students, and it is difficult when a student is doing something that doesn’t necessitate removal from a school but worries everyone, including their parents.
  • The provision of school crisis training for parents could be beneficial.

Thompson provided the perspective of smaller, mid-sized and rural districts. He highlighted his focus on an overall safety program that involves:

  • Access control, which is often difficult and expensive to secure
  • Regular safety drills and common emergency language
  • Coordination with community and local emergency resources and training for district staff
  • Available crisis/emergency resources and training on usage
  • Facilities monitoring with regular internal and external auditing
  • Internal and external emergency communication resources and processes
  • Social and emotional monitoring and support (softening)
  • Defensive strategies for intruders (active shooters) including provisions for incident command (The emergency command structure should be clearly communicated ahead of time.)

Thompson said there is no one-size fits all when it comes to district safety; each district is different. He asked the committee to trust district leaders to make safety decisions that were best for and needed by their local communities.

Clemmons advocated for the state to provide flexibility so that communities can address their most pressing safety needs. He also asked for recognition of the scarcity of funding for facility improvements, especially for those that don’t have the tax base. He noted other challenges such as historic costs for supplies, and the numerous state and federal requirements that schools must follow before replacing doors, adding cameras, or providing other facility updates. Some of Clemmons’ recommendations included:

  • Access to a statewide grant program to address districts’ facility needs
  • Schools without security on campus should bring law enforcement into the loop of communication and planning.
  • The state should provide additional training to law enforcement officials.
  • Campus facility improvements to consider include vestibules, two-way communication, and shatter resistant glass.
  • Provide a substantial increase in the School Safety Allotment from the current $9.72 per student.

Other discussion points between the panel and committee members:

  • Require schools to have only one entry point? No, it depends on the school layout. It’s almost impossible for high schools, and it could make students who are outside the building targets.
  • Should parents be provided results of safety audits? Schools must use caution in revealing weaknesses at a campus as they could become targets. Districts are accountable to parents and the community and aren’t afraid of accountability in a collaborative effort to get better.
  • Should there be a statewide standard on school doors? TEA provides facility standards that act as guidelines for new buildings and thus it would be easier to have a mandate for the design of a new building but it would be difficult and costly to do with older campuses.
  • Can the state require that every campus have at least one authorized and armed school officer before the start of the next school year? It is not feasible within the next seven weeks to follow procurement processes. It should be a community decision on what safety precautions are most needed.

Some of the additional invited testimony included Jazmin Cazares, sister and cousin of Uvalde shooting victims; the Legislative Budget Board; TEA; the Texas School Safety Center; Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training (ALERRT); Texas School District Police Chiefs’ Association; elected and former elected officials; teacher organization representatives; and other individuals representing a range of law enforcement and safety officials.