Gov. Greg Abbott's new school safety plan, unveiled at Dallas ISD headquarters, is voluminous, if not at all unexpected. The governor, seemingly chastened by the murder of 10 students and teachers at a high school in Santa Fe earlier this month, told reporters Wednesday morning that Texas schools need better security, more teachers with guns and stronger support systems for students experiencing mental illness. Abbott did not offer support for any major increases in gun control in the state.
"This plan is a starting point, not an ending place," Abbott said. "It provides strategies that can be used before the next school year begins to keep our students safe when they return to school. This plan will make our schools safer and our communities safer."
Over three days last week, Abbott met with a school administrators, students — including victims from Santa Fe — law enforcement officials and advocates for both gun rights and gun control in Austin. His plan, he said, is the result of those discussions, a series of steps that can be taken, some before the next school year and some by the Legislature, to reduce the likelihood of mass shootings at schools in the state.
The governor wants police officers around Texas to take their regularly scheduled breaks and fill out their reports at schools in their area so that there's a greater chance that a cop is in the building if someone starts shooting. He wants more metal detectors in schools and fewer points of entry.
"It's very simple. You have to know who is coming into the school and who's leaving it," Abbott said.
Abbott said the state will also help schools pay to install alarms made for active shooter situations, so that teachers and students can differentiate situations in which they need to get out of the building — like a fire — from situations where they should shelter in place.
Students, the governor emphasized, should have better tools to tip off school officials and law enforcement about classmates exhibiting signs that could indicate that a shooting is imminent, so the state plans to roll out an app called "I Watch Texas," which will allow kids to anonymously report on their classmates.
"It seems that after every one of these mass shootings, there were advance warning signs that appeared on social media," Abbott said. "We want to be able to view and aggregate those warning signs and disrupt the threat before it causes harm."
If a shooter makes it into a school and begins an attack, Abbott hopes he'll be confronted by a teacher armed with a gun and trained as a part of Texas' school marshal program.
"Students, teachers, educators and law enforcement have all said that [arming teachers] is a great idea," Abbott said. "Students in Santa Fe said that it is one of the programs that they want to see. If you talk to victims, especially victims in schools, they quickly grasp the benefits of the school marshal program."
According to the governor, more than $110 million in state and federal funding has been identified to carry out his proposals. About 1 percent of that cash, $1 million, will go to one of the two gun control measures identified in the plan, providing free gun locks to anyone in the state who wants one. Abbott also urged the Legislature to change Texas' definition of a child from a person younger than 17 to a person younger than 18 so that parents would be required to secure their guns around their 17-year-olds.
After Abbott's presentation, Dallas ISD Superintendent Michael Hinojosa said that while he appreciates the governor's quick response to the shooting in Santa Fe, he doesn't feel that arming Dallas ISD teachers is the right thing to do.
"I would not recommend the marshal program in our context," Hinojosa said. "Teachers get hired, in my opinion, to help kids, and if you're trained to do the opposite — I've seen, even our police chief has talked about, even police officers who're trained to do this, whenever they have to actually hold their firearm, a lot of them go into the fetal position. They have trouble dealing with it. Very few people realize a lot of law enforcement officers never shoot their gun, and that's what their whole skill is."
Former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez, Abbott's Democratic opponent in his campaign for a second term as governor, said Wednesday afternoon that Abbott's proposals aren't enough .
"It is astounding how few of Governor. Abbott's proposals directly address gun violence and how he ignored some of the most critical steps we must take," Valdez said. "With this insufficient plan, Governor Abbott has proven yet again why parents, teachers and students can't trust him."
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