The 86th Texas Legislative session, which concluded in May 2019 produced a number of school safety-related bills which were signed into law by Governor Abbott. Senate Bill 11 (SB 11) is the cornerstone bill for school safety. There are nearly a dozen others that also either directly or indirectly address some aspect of it. Let’s explore some of the aspects of the collective bills related to facility hardening and protection from hostile events.
SB 11 charges the Texas Education Agency (TEA) with creating standards for school facility safety. Section 1 of the bill says:
The commissioner shall adopt or amend rules as necessary to ensure that building standards for instructional facilities and other school district and open-enrollment charter school facilities provide a secure and safe environment.
This charge applies to both new construction and to renovations. The rules are to be reviewed and amended as necessary every other year. It will no doubt take the TEA some time to issue the first set of standards. Many of the architectural firms which do school work in Texas have mobilized to provide input to the rule making process.
SB 11 Section 26 requires the Texas School Safety Center (TSSC) to create and publish guidelines for securing portable buildings. This is good news. Portables are among the biggest security challenges.
Safety and Emergency Vehicles
SB 11 Section 21 permits bond funds to be used to retrofit buses with security equipment and for purchasing or retrofitting other vehicles to be used for safety and emergency purposes.
To help make things happen, SB 11 Section 20, provides for a school safety funding allotment, with funds allocated proportionally to districts based on average daily attendance. Some districts have reported to us that the actual amounts they expect to receive in the 2019-2020 budget year are very small. The funds may be used for a range of purposes related to facility improvement, safety technology, safety officers, and training. SB 11 Section 25 also calls for the TEA to set up a grant program to “improve and maintain student and school safety.” We have no information yet on what that means.
The subject of people carrying firearms in schools always draws much attention from those on all sides of the issue. The most significant changes being advocated when the legislative session began did not make it out of committee, but some new things are in effect.
- Districts with fewer than 30,000 students used to have less stringent requirements for training of school resource officers (SRO). That has been dropped by SB 11. Smaller districts must now conform to the same SRO requirements as larger districts.
- SB 372 permits open-enrollment charter schools to employ or contract for peace officers or SROs in the same way as school districts, and SB 1707 does the same for the Texas School for the Deaf.
- Changes to the school marshal program turned out to be minimal. HB 1387 removes the restriction on how many marshals a school district may have but makes no changes to the way firearms may be carried or stored or other aspects of the program. Many districts across the State, especially rural districts, have instead implemented or are discussing enacting a guardian program (Texas Govt. Code 411.1901).
The legislative changes have much more to say about emergency preparedness and mental health. We will cover those in upcoming posts