Republican state Rep. Nate Schatzline filed a bill earlier this month that would mandate single-point entryways in schools. Under House Bill 1370, any additional external doors would be required to stay closed and locked, with violators risking a state jail felony.
“This will make our schools safer by limiting the access points, increase the level of accountability for people who put children at risk by not acting in accordance with this statute, and give more rights back to parents,” Schatzline recently said in a statement posted to Twitter.
On May 24, an 18-year-old gunman entered Uvalde’s Robb Elementary School through a back door and killed 19 students and two teachers. Officials initially claimed the door had been propped open shortly before the slayings. Investigators later learned that it had been closed prior to the gunfire but didn’t lock.
It’s time we prioritize the safety of Texas schools and HB1370 & HB1371 will do just that! #txlege pic.twitter.com/Tit8bfnNsZ— Nate Schatzline (@NateSchatzline) January 18, 2023
Following Uvalde, gun reform advocates decried firearms as the problem. Certain Second Amendment supporters, though, have instead pointed to societal issues ranging from unchecked mental illness to fatherless homes.
The idea of requiring single-door schoolhouses has found support among prominent GOP politicians, including U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and even former President Donald Trump. Detractors, meanwhile, have cast doubt on the efficacy and practicality of such a move.
Days after Uvalde, the Texas Tribune reported that for larger campuses, it could take hours for thousands of students and employees to enter and exit through a single entry. Some districts might also have schools with multiple buildings and portables, further complicating the process.
Older district buildings may face renovations under a law like the one Schatzline proposed, costing local taxpayers, per the Tribune. And critics have pointed out that it’s important for more than one door to be available in the instance of an emergency, such as a fire. (Schatzline's bill states that responding to an emergency situation can be a "defense to prosecution" for some, including parents and certain personnel.)
Nicole Golden, executive director of Texas Gun Sense, said via email that most Texans agree on “common sense measures” to safeguard against gun violence in schools and communities. Such proposals include implementing a "stronger vetting process for purchase of semi-automatic rifles (such as raising the age of purchase to 21)," mandated background checks and red flag laws. It could also mean greater investments in violence intervention programs and safe gun storage education.
Golden noted that around 4,000 Texans are fatally shot each year. The state's been home to some of the most well-known mass shootings in recent years, she said.
“Our students, educators, and families in our schools and communities deserve a future free from gun violence." – Nicole Golden, Texas Gun Sensetweet this
“Our students, educators, and families in our schools and communities deserve a future free from gun violence,” Golden wrote. “The time to act is now, and we are working tirelessly with our coalition and leaders to steer our policies in the right direction.”
The Observer reached out to Schatzline’s office with an interview request but didn’t hear back by publication time.
Schatzline has filed another bill aimed at improving school safety. HB 1371 would mandate the on-campus presence of armed, properly trained security officers during normal school hours.
Around a decade ago, the Lone Star State rolled out the school marshal program, which lets certain teachers carry guns. Of Texas’ more than 1,200 districts, though, just 84 have signed up, the Texas Tribune reported in June.
Some North Texas districts have also installed signs touting their preparedness.
A photo posted to Reddit last week shows a placard by Wills Point ISD, located roughly 50 miles east of Dallas, that states staff is “armed, trained and will use whatever force is necessary to protect our students.”
Kate Keierleber, a spokesperson for the district, said the signs went into place at the beginning of the school year. She said it’s the district’s fifth year under Texas’ guardian program, which allows teachers who are licensed to carry — and have been thoroughly trained — to bring their weapons to campus.
Keierleber added that her district already requires visitors to enter through a main corridor. The other remaining entrances are key-carded and can be accessed only by employees, she said.
Other North Texas districts have posted similar notices. Peaster ISD, for instance, installed signs to warn the ill-intended of armed staff, the website Pew reported following a 2018 high school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas.
Ari Freilich, state policy director for Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, wrote via email that his group shares Schatzline's goals of improving students’ and teachers' wellbeing and safety. Still, the idea that Texas educators could face a felony for leaving a door unattended doesn't sit well with him.
Freilich pointed out that state lawmakers have already spent millions on efforts like arming additional personnel and hardening security. The way he sees it, these politicians have yet to hold honest discussions about how to prevent future school shootings.
He cited the state’s relatively high rate of gun murders under its current leadership, adding it’s “tragic” that lawmakers would seemingly rather criminalize teachers than pursue more practical reforms.
“School security matters,” Freilich wrote. “But it is simply unacceptable to look at the Uvalde massacre and Texas's gun homicide record and determine the only thing Texas can do to protect kids from gun violence is turn educators into felons and regulate doors.”