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AUSTIN — The Texas Education Agency and the Texas School Safety Center released directives last week to improve safety and security of public schools before the start of the coming school year.
In June, following the mass shooting in a Uvalde elementary school in May, Gov. Greg Abbott directed the TEA and the TxSSC to provide strategies and tools to school districts that will further enhance security measures.
After a series of changing timelines, it was found that the 18-year-old gunman entered the school through an unlocked back door. Because of it, TEA is now directing schools to conduct exterior door safety audits and to review or, if necessary, update access control procedures. Those procedures include conducting exterior door sweeps at least once a week to ensure doors are closed and locked while instruction is being conducted, officials said.
Districts are also required to conduct a targeted safety audit before the start of the school year. The audit, designed by TxSSC, includes about 50 questions to be considered for each instructional facility, with roughly half of the questions related to campus procedures and the other half related to the campus physical plant, according to education agency officials.
In early June, Greenville ISD informed parents that the district planned to implement several new safety measures starting this coming school year.
GISD’s announcement came about a month after Greenville High School was evacuated after the discovery of a fake pipe bomb at the high school—an incident that led to the arrest of a juvenile suspect within eight hours of the device being discovered.
One new GISD safety measure is the requirement that only clear backpacks would be allowed.
“This common-sense measure is becoming more common at both school and public events, and we want to make this transition easy and affordable for our families,” the district’s social media post said.
In addition to the new clear backpack requirement, GISD’s announcement included a list of other precautions it will take:
- All entry will be through the front door access point only.
- All classroom doors must remain locked at all times.
- All sixth- through 12th-grade students will be required to wear ID badges.
- School engagement officers will walk hallways and check locks throughout the day.
- All outside doors will be locked and monitored throughout the day, and no doors may be propped open.
- Teachers are the only ones authorized to open classroom doors if anyone knocks.
- Students are not allowed to open outside doors to let people in. Do so will cause disciplinary consequences.
- All visitors must sign in, go through Raptor screening and wear a name badge while on campus.
- Athletic Department protocols will ensure student-athlete entrances and exits are supervised between athletic practices and activities.
- Campus security drills will be unannounced (current drills are announced).
- Reunification plans will be clearly planned for various scenarios. Following best security practices, reunification sites will be communicated only if an incident occurs.
- GISD will conduct quarterly communication campaigns to parents to update email, phone numbers and emergency information.
- Teachers will not be allowed to share keys issued to them.
- No blankets are allowed on campus.
- Hoodies are allowed but the hoods must be down.
Other measures that TEA is wanting to be completed statewide before the start of the school year include scheduling all mandatory drills, ensuring all campus staff including substitutes are trained on their specific campus safety procedures, and ensuring all threat assessment team members, who are responsible for conducting individualized assessment of the person of concern, are trained.
Schools must also convene a safety and security committee to review the district’s multi-hazard emergency operations plan and active threat plan, it said.
School districts will need to report compliance by Sept. 9, officials said. For items not in compliance by that date, TEA said it will compile information and submit it to the Texas Legislature to request funding as a measure to help districts reach requirements. Separately, TEA is working on a grant process to also ease financial burdens, officials said.
Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath and TxSSC Director Kathy Martinez-Prather said while some of the directives may be new to a few, they know that most schools in Texas are already implementing these actions and more to keep students and staff safe.
“We understand that the safety of students and staff is always the top priority of Texas public school systems,” they said in a statement. “We hope that the added support provided by the state, both financial and technical, will help further the efforts you are implementing locally to ensure every one of our campuses is both safe and supportive for our students and staff.”