Education

Teachers, Democrats Slam Gov. Greg Abbott's Calls for Special School Safety Committees

Critics say Gov. Greg Abbott isn't doing enough to prevent another Uvalde massacre.
Critics say Gov. Greg Abbott isn't doing enough to prevent another Uvalde massacre. Photo by Sam Balye on Unsplash
Following last month's mass shooting in Uvalde, Gov. Greg Abbott called for special legislative committees to study school safety. Many say the push doesn’t go nearly far enough.

Authorities say that on May 24, an 18-year-old gunman killed 19 kids and two educators at Robb Elementary School. The Texas slaying has prompted calls from the left to tighten gun laws while some on the right have blamed problems like online bullying and deadbeat dads.

Last week, in a letter addressed to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Dade Phelan, the governor asked each to convene a special legislative committee to propose solutions. In addition to school safety, he wants lawmakers to investigate how “meaningful action can be made” on topics like social media, police training, mental health and firearm safety.

In school shootings, teachers are often expected to put their own lives on the line to protect students, but many have begun to demand firearm reform, saying that fending off mass shooters shouldn’t be part of their job description.

Dallas ISD teacher Rosie Curts called the governor’s idea to launch these special committees “a joke.”

“It is simply a way for Abbott to look like he's doing something while doing nothing and kicking the can down the road,” she said.

In a statement, Ovidia Molina, president of the Texas State Teachers Association, called this request for special committees “very weak.” She noted that groups have previously examined school safety, including after massacres at Texas’ Santa Fe High School in 2018 and an El Paso Walmart the following year.

Abbott and other lawmakers have ignored the real issue and refused to pass sensible gun legislation that would keep weapons away from dangerous people, Molina said. She also argued that the shooter shouldn’t have been allowed to buy assault weapons. (The gunman, Salvador Ramos, legally purchased two rifles right after his 18th birthday last month.)

"Until these things become the law in our state, we aren’t going to see the changes necessary, especially around gun violence prevention.” – Jamarr Brown, Texas Democratic Party

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She also pointed out that last year, a law took effect letting most Texans carry handguns without training or a permit.

“Guns kill people, including school children and educators, and there are too many guns out there in the possession of dangerous people,” Molina said. “It doesn’t take more committees to figure that out.”

Liberals statewide have also derided Abbott’s plan for new committees as lackluster. Mike Collier, Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, classified the effort to create committees as a failure to act.

Collier cited previous special sessions that were called “to ban books and suppress the vote.” He added that laws must be passed before the start of the school year to decrease the chance of yet another tragedy.

“Anything less than a special session is an insult to every parent who has lost a child to gun violence,” he said in a statement.

Jamarr Brown, co-executive director for the Texas Democratic Party (TDP), similarly believes the governor’s move doesn’t go far enough. In addition to the TDP, a special session is supported by the state’s Senate Democratic Caucus and bipartisan members from the Texas House, he said.

Among other measures, the state’s Democrats support an increase in ownership age, from 18 to 21, and restored funding for mental health. Abbott has blamed the shooting on a mental health crisis but in April cut $211 million from the department that supervises those programs.

Texans need to see policies, not more special committees, Brown added.

“Committees, task forces, recommendations are fine,” he said. “But until these things become the law in our state, we aren’t going to see the changes necessary, especially around gun violence prevention.”

Dallas ISD teacher Curts said she’s reminded of another special committee that was aimed at improving teacher retention, which still hasn’t accomplished anything. She fears that if any school-safety solutions turn out to be politically inconvenient for the governor and GOP, they’ll be ignored.

While heightened security could help in theory, the Uvalde shooting illustrates that it doesn’t matter so long as police refuse to intervene, Curts continued. She wants to see the enactment of practical gun control measures that would lead to assault weapons bans and universal background checks.

Still, considering who’s in charge, she doubts that there’s much hope for either right now.

“Current leadership in Texas doesn't care if the overwhelming majority of Texans support ideas like these, as long as their most vocal supporters and the NRA are against them,” Curts said. “All we can do is try our best to change our elected officials.”
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Simone Carter, a staff news reporter at the Dallas Observer, graduated from the University of North Texas' Mayborn School of Journalism. Her favorite color is red, but she digs Miles Davis' Kind of Blue.
Contact: Simone Carter