Tuesday, December 18, 2012
78 school districts in Texas fail safety code compliance
Most are small or rural schools.
AUSTIN In the wake of the Connecticut elementary school shooting, Attorney General Greg Abbott has publicly rebuked 78 Texas school districts that have failed to meet state-mandated safety measures.
Abbott said Monday that he had told the districts — a small percentage of the state's 1,025 total and, with a few exceptions, primarily small, rural schools — that his office expects them to immediately comply with state law.
"Every day they are not in compliance, they are putting kids at greater risk," Abbott said at a news conference in Austin.
The attorney general said he was "shocked to learn" of the number of districts that were not doing "all they should be doing to keep children safe" — and that while he wasn't currently aware of any sanctions available for districts that have not submitted their plans, his office was currently investigating other options to ensure compliance.
The largest out-of-compliance districts are the Beaumont Independent School District, which has about 20,000 students, and Houston's North Forest ISD, with about 7,600 students.
Thirty-eight districts did not report a safety plan at all, which they must submit every three years to the Texas School Safety Center. Housed at Texas State University, the center was created after the 1999 Columbine school shooting. Under a law passed in 2005, public school districts and junior colleges must adopt an emergency operations plan that includes employee training and mandatory drills for students and employees.
On Friday, Gov. Rick Perry asked Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams to direct districts to review those plans to make sure that they were prepared for a situation like the one in Sandy Hook, which Williams did in a letter sent to districts Monday.
Abbott and Perry are not the only statewide elected official to call for policy changes following the Connecticut shooting. Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson on Friday told the Houston Chronicle shortly after the incident that schools should arm "more police officers, security guards and responsible citizens."
"The common denominator for the school shootings in Aurora, Columbine, and Virginia Tech is that we have a target-rich environment," Patterson said. "You have a shooter that is completely free to go about his sick fantasy. We need to do what it takes to change that."
Under the federal Gun-Free Schools Act and state law, school districts can grant written permission for anyone, including certain employees, to carry firearms on campus. At least one district in the state — Harrold ISD, which about 100 students and is located near the Texas-Oklahoma border — has a policy that allows teachers to carry concealed handguns.
Harrold superintendent David Thweatt on Monday told a Lubbock radio station that the district had implemented what it calls the "Guardian Plan" after the 2007 shooting at Virginia Tech. At Harrold, after earning a concealed handgun license from the state, teachers must also gain the approval of the school board and complete additional training provided by the district. The policy only permits the use of frangible ammunition, which is designed to break apart when it hits hard surfaces to protect against ricochet.
In his radio interview, Thweatt rejected the notion that "guns and kids don't mix." He said he has received calls from districts across the state about Harrold's policy in the days since the Newtown shooting, adding that he thought all districts — not just small rural ones like Harrold — should consider it.
"Whenever you say any area is a gun-free zone, you invite trouble," he said. "Basically you learn from old Westerns what you need to know. Good guys with guns are good; bad guys with guns are bad. And that's exactly what we need to be focusing on."
Pegasus News Content partner - The Texas Tribune