“Multi-layered approach” needed to keep Texas schools safe

school safety hearing

AUSTIN — Several law enforcement experts told Texas lawmakers that collaboration between districts and local police departments is critical when crafting a school safety plan and schools can’t solely rely on one option when it comes to prevention and security.

“Trying to keep our schools safe is a multi-layered approach,” Kim Vickers, executive director of the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement (TCOLE) said. “Arming teachers is not going to be the answer. It is a way to mitigate situations when they happen but it’s such a bigger picture than that.”

Lawmakers on the Senate Select Committee on Violence in Schools and School Security heard testimony Tuesday related to the school marshal program, as well as the training school police officers and armed school personnel go through.  

“Since the incident – the Santa Fe shooting, there have been 13 new school districts that have come to us wanting to initiate and begin an ISD [police department],” Vickers said. “Any law enforcement agency in the state has to come through us to be formed and so that’s how we’re so involved in that and have those numbers.”

Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, asked what the best way was for all entities, including educators and law enforcement, to get involved when they see warning signs.

“What can we do when school officials can see a young man embarrassed in the class, already was showing symptoms or dress abnormally, but then before the tragedy, a teacher witnesses someone dressing down someone that was already frail?” Sen. Whitmire asked. “How in the world can law enforcement and the legislature get school officials – teachers – to recognize that and get involved?”

Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steven McCraw says it will require active and robust reporting by all students and teachers.

“There’s certainly a positive benefit from reporting and also follow up,” McCraw said. “We hope that most of the follow up is not law enforcement and that it’s actually those counselors and school officials that have the training to be able to deal with that.”

The Texas School Safety Center provides training templates for schools across the state, but leaders for the center said districts can’t take a “one-size fits all” approach.

“What’s really critical is that there is collaboration occurring with districts and their local first responders,” Kathy Martinez-Prather, director of the Texas School Safety Center, told legislators.

“That’s a big challenge that we see in terms of the planning process. We know that schools are still one of the safest places to send our children and so it’s still very rare that a mass shooting is going to occur, so we have to be mindful of identifying all of those other things before it leads up to something like this.”  

Round Rock Police Chief Allen Banks says their school resource officers receive more than just active shooter training.

“I do not want our SROs to have tunnel vision,” he said. “What we do is we also look at active killer [situations] because there are other means of causing mass casualties – vehicles, knife assaults, you have explosive devices, so we don’t just focus on active shooter. We focus on all means.”

Engaging the entire campus must also be a part of prevention training, Banks said.  

“We have to not educate not only our parents, but our students and our administrators on how to identify and most importantly, how to report it to us,” he said.

The committee plans to hold two more meetings related to mental health resources and the role of violent media and other cultural factors in the rise of active shooting events.

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