AUSTIN (KXAN) — Four days after 10 people were killed and 13 injured at a shooting at Santa Fe High School, state leaders say it’s time to talk honestly about why these mass attacks are happening and how to prevent them.
Some have criticized what they see as a repeating cycle of violence followed by a lack of policy changes and statements from lawmakers carrying nothing more than “thoughts and prayers.”
So Gov. Greg Abbott decided to jump-start the conversation about school safety and gun control in a new way.
At the Texas State Capitol Tuesday afternoon, he invited a group of school officials, members of local law enforcement, lawmakers and other state leaders to share their thoughts. This will be the first of three roundtable discussions talking about safety and security at schools in Texas.
Those present went through a long list of possible actions that could make schools safer and prevent attacks on campus.
There was a significant amount of conversation about making it easier for students to report threats, Gov. Abbott noted that students are more likely to know information about a potential shooter before teachers or law enforcement.
Several members of Central Texas law enforcement were present Tuesday, including Chief Allen Banks of Round Rock Police and Lt. Jeri Skrocki of the Hays County Sheriff’s Office.
Gov. Abbott singled out the work Lt. Skrocki and her colleagues have done with their program in Hays County to prevent and respond to active shooters. The Hays County Sheriff’s Office says the state’s standard response protocol is based on the program they started.
Skrocki explained that HCSO has trained all of the 55 schools in their area about how to improve emergency communication.
At the start of every school year, HCSO shows a video to every single student, teacher and staff member that includes bus drivers and custodians.
HCSO also trains campuses using a mock 911 call. Then, school resource officers go through schools and meet with administrators about best practices. Additionally, students are told to take home the safety information they’ve learned at school and talk with their parents about what they’d do in the event of an emergency.
“We know statistically that kids that self-evacuate don’t get injured, and so those are the kind of things that — it’s very hard for people to think about their kids running out of a school — but at the same time for them to recognize that we typically don’t see children fleeing from a school getting hurt,” Skrocki said.
HCSO has been instructed by Gov. Abbott to work with the Texas Safety Center out of Texas State to start sharing their program with students, teachers, and staff statewide.
Abbott noted that his office is trying to provide a governor’s criminal justice grant to the Texas Safety Center so they can expand their work with HCSO and other groups to train schools and departments.
Chief Allen Banks of the Round Rock Police Department is very interested in these conversations because his department is in the beginning stages of building a police department for Round Rock ISD.
Banks explained that his city and school district have grown so much, it’s time the schools got their own law enforcement agency.
“Our marching orders [after this roundtable] are to continue to work hard with our community, if our student safety is going to be paramount, we need to walk that walk and make sure the safety of our students is taken care of,” Banks explained, noting that one of his other goals is to help schools identify students that could be threats.
“It was exciting to be around a table that had people who were actually willing to sit and try to get this resolved,” he noted. “Enough of the talk, it’s about action right now.”
Here are some of the ideas discussed to improve safety and security on Tuesday:
- Adding more behavioral counseling in schools
- Increasing staffing ratios
- Creating more threat assessment teams at schools
- Having better-coordinated communication between schools and law enforcement
- Programs that reward students for sharing information
- Upgrading facilities with better entrances, exits and cameras
- Making a statewide intelligence monitoring service for social media of students
- Providing early intervention counselors at schools, even as early as elementary school
- Better sharing threat information between schools
- Giving students, teachers and staff training programs on how to relay emergency information
- Placing officers at the front of schools
- Improving the school marshal training program
- Increasing parent accountability for their children’s behavior
- Building an app where students and parents can watch cameras around schools in real time.
The next roundtable Wednesday afternoon will focus on gun regulations and mental health. The roundtable Thursday will include victims and their families to talk about the impacts of gun violence.