The House Public Education Committee held public hearings June 26 and 27 as it considers interim charges related to school safety.

Legislators on the committee, which is chaired by Dan Huberty, are tasked with reviewing the effectiveness of schools' current multihazard emergency operation plans; examining current school facilities and grounds and reviewing the effectiveness of security measures, such as metal detectors and cameras; and reviewing mental health services for Texas students. They will make recommendations ahead of the next legislative session, which begins in January.

During a June 27 joint hearing with the House Committee on Public Health, TCTA testified for additional teacher supports beyond teacher training on mental health. Reminding lawmakers that teachers are not mental health experts, TCTA stressed the need for teacher access allowing referral to fully trained mental health experts, noting that "teachers really need a clearly articulated, accessible and simple process to follow should they notice changes in behavior in their students or recognize some of these warning signs for mental illness." A campus behavior coordinator "could fit well in plans moving forward in that they are a centralized resource to address some of the behavior issues that students were experiencing in their classrooms."

TCTA's testimony also addressed perceptions regarding zero-tolerance policies, reminding lawmakers that campus behavior coordinators use their discretion when considering whether a student should be sent to a DAEP, suspended or expelled, so there is no longer a list of mandatory removal provisions.

As a final note, TCTA stressed that as lawmakers take action to address mental health and school safety, the legislature should not allow districts to exempt themselves from those measures through the District of Innovation process.

School safety actions

As the Texas Legislature gathers information on school safety ahead of its next session, Education Commissioner Mike Morath also reminded school districts of opportunities already available to improve campus security. 

He urged districts to take advantage of resources available through the Texas School Safety Center and to increase the number of school marshals. Other opportunities include:

  • coordination with local law enforcement;
  • behavioral threat assessments;
  • mental health first aid;
  • additional school safety trainings; and
  • federal funding available for school safety under Title IV, Part A.

The U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance is also seeking applicants for STOP School Violence Prevention and Mental Health Training Program grants, which support efforts to reduce and prevent school violence.