SANTA FE, Texas (AP/KXAN) — On Wednesday, Gov. Greg Abbott announced proposals aimed at curbing future school attacks.
He released 40 recommendations that include: state and federal money to help districts pay for more armed security and school marshals, $1 million worth of gun locks to Texans and looking into new laws that require faster reporting of stolen guns and mental health restraining orders (which would take away guns from someone after due process from the court system).
Abbott announced during a news briefing in Dallas that $100-120 million could be used before the school year to help schools implement their own safety plans. He was adamant the state would not “mandate” anything, instead help schools pay for measures they wanted to add on their own.
The announcement follows a series of roundtables Abbott conducted last week with parents, educators, lawmakers and law enforcement to receive input on how to make schools safer.
During the roundtable, law enforcement officers explained how they train students and staff regarding emergency situations. The Hays County Sheriff’s Office says it has trained all of the 55 schools in its area on how to improve emergency communication.
Funding for mental health evaluations
Abbott’s suggestions also call for giving schools millions of dollars in funding so more schools can provide mental health evaluations for their students.
This means expanding Texas Tech University’s program called “Telemedicine, Wellness, Intervention, Triage and Referral” or TWITR that screens and identifies potentially problematic students who may be at risk of hurting others.
“This is just one element of what can be done to make schools safer,” said professor Billy Philips who helped lead the project. “Nobody’s sound after something like this,” Philips added, referring to the Santa Fe shooting. “They have to be helped. Kids have the right to be safe and peaceful as they learn.”
The project launched four years ago in 10 West Texas school districts. Texas Tech’s report said the program resulted in 25 students being removed from their schools, 44 students being sent to alternative places and 38 students being sent to emergency rooms or being admitted to hospitals.
Of the 25 removed from schools, the report said about half were homicidal. The other half were actively suicidal.
Some people worried the program is taking a step too far. “Being called out for something, how do you know you’re not exacerbating the problem by bringing attention to something,” one man said.
But others say it’s better than being too late.
“I do, I do worry,” said Yvette Mireles who has a teenage daughter. “I worry about sending my daughter to school.”
Mireles was glad the recommendations to prevent school shootings were being made. She hopes they will actually be implemented.
“The sooner that we can see something happening with a child, then the better it is for them,” Mireles said. “A lot of times, there are things going on with them, but we don’t know. Or we suspect there is, but we don’t do anything about it so we just let go, and further down the road, we say I wish I did something about it.”
Psychologist Elizabeth Minne told KXAN many Austin schools already have something similar because they have in-school mental health clinics.
“There are certainly some similarities between that program and what we’re doing here,” she explained. “We have a very robust referral system where the school campuses are coming together as a multidisciplinary team.”
Minne said teachers and parents refer a student to therapy. “They’re not asking what’s wrong with the kid,” she said. “They’re asking how can we better understand what this kid needs? “
She said in-school clinics often see students who are dealing with issues related to anxiety, depression and psychological trauma. Some students also struggle with stress and family-related issues.
Counselors can help teachers, staff and parents as well.
On Tuesday, Abbott visited Santa Fe High School where students returned to class for the first time since a gunman killed 10 people.
Authorities have charged student Dimitrios Pagourtzis with capital murder in the May 18 shooting. Investigators say he used a shotgun and pistol that belonged to his father.