Gov. Greg Abbott announced Monday he will be hosting a series of roundtable discussions at the Texas Capitol focused on school safety and security following the shooting at Santa Fe High School.
Speaking with reporters Sunday, Abbott said leaders couldn’t wait any longer to find solutions to better protect students.
“It’s time to go to work – go to work to make sure that this will be a catalyst to ensure that we will build a pathway to reforms so that other students will not have to live through a nightmare,” Abbott said.
Tuesday’s roundtable will be the first and attendees include Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Speaker of the Texas House Joe Straus.
They will be joined by four other members of the Texas legislature: Sen. John Whitmore, D-Houston, Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford and Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston.
Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw and Texas Education Agency Commissioner Mike Morath will also be in attendance. Several other law enforcement agencies and school officials were invited to provide their own unique perspectives.
Cecilia “Cissy” Reynolds-Perez, principal of Ray High School in Corpus Christi and a board member of the Texas School Safety Center, hopes the discussion will cover how staffing ratios and school environment contribute to student stress.
“I’m hoping that tomorrow’s meeting will be that first step and I don’t want it to end there,” she said. “We cannot. We cannot be complacent. We’ve got to continue the dialogue to find some real solutions that we can move forward. Even two or three solutions.”
Reynolds-Perez says while she supports adding metal detectors in schools, that won’t be enough to prevent violence. She also believes arming teachers isn’t the appropriate solution, citing their already increasing workload.
“If we’re dealing with student stress and anxieties and any bullying situations, then the problem will never come to the point where a teacher would even have to consider using a gun,” she said.
Ed Scruggs with Texas Gun Violence says their group was invited by Abbott to the roundtable event scheduled for Wednesday. One of the proposals they’d like to address is what’s commonly known as a “red flag law.”
“This is a proactive tool that can be used – they can go before a judge and they can request a legal hearing before the judge to discuss the issue,” he said. “If the judge decides this person is a threat, they can decide to temporarily confiscate their firearms while they seek treatment or while they appeal and show that they’re competent to get them back.”
State Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, sent a letter to Gov. Abbott commending him for his plans to host the roundtable discussions, but also urged him to call a special session this summer dedicated to addressing school safety.
“If we act now, we can implement policy and appropriate state funding to ensure our schools will be safer before the next school year begins in August,” Cook wrote. “Conversely, if we wait until the next legislative session which begins in January 2019, then another full school year will have occurred without legislative action or support.”
Chief Teresa Ramon with the Judson ISD Police Department said the Texas School District Police Chiefs’ Association has requested to take part in these ongoing conversations. The chiefs in the group say funding should be lawmakers’ top priority when addressing school security.
“We need more funding to hire teachers, smaller classroom instruction and more training for school district police departments,” Ramon said in an email.
The association says it has reached out to Santa Fe ISD’s police chief and is awaiting a call to help provide services.
Mental health advocates and experts on bullying will also be providing input at these roundtables. The Texas Health and Human Services Commission will be represented by Chance Freeman, director of the Hurricane Harvey Crisis Counseling Program in the Disaster Behavioral Health Unit.
The third roundtable discussion will take place Thursday, May 24. Victims, educators and family members from those affected by shootings in Santa Fe, Sutherland Springs, Alpine and Italy, Texas have also been invited to participate.