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New resource available to educate parents about school safety law

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(The Center Square) – A new school safety advisory has been released to educate parents about legal requirements school districts must follow to prepare and train staff and students about school violence.

The four-page advisory was released by the Office of the Attorney General after the state legislature passed a new bill the governor signed into law last year.

“Parents deserve to know what state law requires of their school district so that they can hold school boards and administrators accountable and better understand how school districts should prepare for a worst-case scenario. Although no amount of preparedness can guarantee against all threats, parental engagement and involvement is critical to keeping schools safe,” the advisory states.

The law requires all school districts in Texas to provide every classroom with silent panic alert technology, which notifies emergency services, law enforcement, health departments, and fire departments. Some district personnel are also required to complete a mental health training program designed to help them identify and help children who they believe may be experiencing a mental health issue that may pose a threat to school safety.

Each district is required to provide an accurate map of each campus and school building to the Texas Department of Public Safety, local law enforcement agencies, and local emergency first responders and give them an opportunity to conduct walk-throughs using it. They are also required to notify parents electronically about violent acts that have occurred or are being investigated at their campuses, facilities or district-sponsored activities.

The law also requires school boards in all public-school districts to determine the appropriate number of armed security officers for each campus and ensure an armed security officer is present at each campus during regular school hours. All districts are authorized to employ or retain trained law enforcement personnel and may allow district employees to arm themselves through a school marshal program or guardian plan.

The legal requirements were put in place after the Texas legislature identified numerous failures made by school officials and law enforcement prior to and during the Robb Elementary School shooting in Uvalde two years ago this May.

Every school district is required to implement a multi-hazard emergency operations plan to establish benchmarks for a wide range of emergency scenarios, including an active-shooter. The plan must include specific training for all school district employees, including ensuring every employee has access to a telephone, requiring school drills and exercises to prepare students, and having a chain of command in which one person is designated to make final decisions during an emergency. Districts are also required to conduct safety and security audits of facilities and report them to the Texas School Safety Center, which was created in 2022. It provides safety training resources to school districts and the public.

The Chief of School Safety and Security at the Texas Education Agency, John Scott, is overseeing the center’s and statewide school safety efforts. Scott, who was appointed by Gov. Greg Abbott in October 2022, previously served as assistant special agent in charge for the U.S. Secret Service Dallas/North Texas District.

The OAG’s Law Enforcement Division has also made available supplemental training for school resource officers, marshals, guardians, and any other law enforcement personnel who are authorized to carry firearms on campus and are responsible for school safety.

The advisory states that parents are encouraged to submit public information requests to “take steps to ensure that their school district has complied with its obligation to create an EOP and conduct safety audits,” and provides a sample form for them to use.