In wake of the Santa Fe shooting that left 10 dead almost two weeks ago, Gov. Greg Abbott unveiled a new school safety plan May 30 in San Marcos with policies aimed at reducing gun violence in schools.
At the Hays County Law Enforcement Center, Abbott went through his School and Firearm Safety Action Plan, centered around raising mental health awareness and increasing security measures in schools. Last week, Abbott held sessions with peace officers, educators, security experts, politicians and mass-shooting survivors to gather recommendations on improving school security. Among those involved were Hays County law enforcement officers, as Abbott has long praised the active shooter training hosted annually by Hays County school districts. Abbott visited Dallas earlier the same day.
As a result of these meetings and the subsequent recommendations, the plan will offer more than $120 million of funding and 40 strategies without needing any appropriations by the legislature.
“This plan is just a starting point, not an ending place,” Abbott said. “This plan provides strategies for the legislature to consider. The strategy that I most strongly urge the legislature to consider is mental health, especially mental health counselors.”
Texas Rep. Paul Workman of District 47 said funding is going to be key to the implementation of this plan.
“I think our district is already doing some of that stuff but I think the schools in our district will certainly embrace this stuff and try to get it going,” Workman said. “I hope the legislature can provide some financial assistance when it comes to the next session to try to help with some of these things in addition to what the governor has outlined today.”
Abbott has been endorsed by the NRA since 2014 and has a 100 percent approval rating for his gun-related positions. Historically, Abbott has been a strong supporter of the Second Amendment and has remained so in the face of criticism with the rise of gun violence in schools. At a May 4 NRA convention in Dallas, Abbott said the problem is not with guns, but with hearts without God, in his opinion.
As a part of the plan, Abbott recommends specific, stronger gun restrictions to help keep guns out of schools in a way that won’t infringe on his Second Amendment stance. One key point is to require parents for children 17 and younger to safely store firearms. Previously, the law required only parents of those younger than 17 do so. In the case of the Santa Fe Highschool attack, where the 17-year-old attacker used his father’s weapons, it would have been another step of accountability for the parents.
“We share with these victims a very common bond, which is that we want to prevent any further school shootings,” Abbott said.
As a result of the roundtable, Abbott’s plan will include a higher presence of law enforcement officers and school marshalls, or armed faculty trained to handle active shooter situations on school campuses.
Abbott presented a strategy to do so through grants provided to collaborating schools. He highlighted one student’s particular excerpt about the arming of teachers and faculty: “Arming teachers and not knowing who is armed, that is what we need.”
The training and certification of more school marshalls were heavily debated and met with contention by students and parents at the roundtable but was ultimately included in the plan.
“The most important thing that you can do with an active shooter on campus is to confront that gunman with another gun and someone who is trained to use it,” Abbott said. “The school marshall program does not mandate that any particular teacher in a school have a weapon. It does provide that any person on campus will be able to participate in the program.”
Michael Cardona, San Marcos CISD’s superintendent, said students play the biggest role in preventing violence on campus.
“We need students and parents to talk to us, not necessarily more people with guns,” Cardona said. “We need counselors that can help students with problems like alcohol abuse or absent parents.”
Active shooter alarm systems will be placed in schools as a result of the plan. As brought to Abbott’s knowledge by a teacher during the roundtables, the confusion between these and fire alarm systems are dangerous, as a fire alarm indicates all on campus should leave the building, which is especially dangerous during an active shooting. The different systems would allow a concise definition of the situation ensuing, ultimately saving lives.
To better engage students in the prevention of violence, Abbott presented iWatch Texas, a statewide app to make reporting suspicious activity more convenient for students and those on campus. Law enforcement officials will be able to vet threats submitted and expectedly act before any violence occurs.
SMCISD currently has the Stop It app, which is similar in procedure to iWatch. Cardona said there is great potential in using a system like this and educating parents and students on how to effectively and responsibly use it is of great importance.
Other recommendations in the plan include the immediate filing of lost or stolen firearms, the removal of firearms from someone proven to be dangerous through a legal due process, and the removal of threatening students from a classroom. Previously, Abbott previously signed a law to remove threatening teachers from the classroom.
Video of Abbott’s announcement in Dallas can be found below.