Private School Security: What Planners and Administrators Need to Know
The importance of school security cannot be understated in today’s dynamic landscape. As private school administrators, you shoulder a significant responsibility to not only educate students but keep them safe.
The significance of security in private schools extends far beyond the basic need for safety. A well-structured security plan promotes a conducive learning environment, boosts parents’ confidence and trust, and ultimately enhances the school’s reputation. It’s not just about reacting to incidents but proactively preventing them.
The vast differences across building types, budgetary constraints, and leadership philosophies can make it feel as if there is no clear path toward developing a plan for private school security. However, there are a number of free resources available that can help private schools strengthen their security. Moreover, many of the most essential steps for creating safer schools have little to no cost, as they involve your people and the security processes put in place.
With that in mind, private school administrators must ask themselves: can you afford to compromise on any aspect that could affect your school’s overall success?
Key factors to consider in planning private school security
When it comes to private school security planning, a one-size-fits-all approach simply doesn’t work. Each school has unique security needs that must be thoroughly assessed and addressed. Below are six critical steps to strengthen your private school security.
- Conduct a threat assessment
Identifying potential security threats is the starting point of any security plan. This involves studying the school’s surroundings, the socio-political climate, and specific risks related to your student population. For example, schools operating under religious organizations recognize they may face a different level of risk in their community that may drive a more stringent security approach. For help in conducting this assessment, private schools can use free guidelines and a supporting checklist from The Partner Alliance for Safer Schools (PASS). The Secret Service also offers a free guide on how to conduct threat assessments.
A threat assessment should investigate risks to not only your facility but also its property and adjacencies to that property. Adjacencies can be particularly challenging for private schools that may not have the acreage available to public schools to create a buffer against nearby properties. Problems at the industrial complex, commercial strip center, bank, or gas station next door could all spill over to your doorstep.
- Install physical security measures
Technology investments should never drive your private school security planning. Without an understanding of your facility’s unique risks, technology cannot be expected to solve a problem. That said, technology can help address specific risks. Solutions can be as simple as adding motion lights to deter late visitors to more sophisticated alarm systems. From advanced access control that secures entrances and exits to surveillance cameras, the latest technology advancements can bolster your school’s security.
Before installing a physical security measure, private schools operating within a leased property or co-located with other services should discuss these changes with their landlord. A leased facility may add constraints to your security planning, such as limiting the ability to add security fencing or surveillance cameras.
While security systems have become more affordable over the years – and a knowledgeable contractor can potentially integrate multiple systems to help lower costs – federal and other grants may be available to fund these resources.
- Contract with security personnel
Trained security personnel are the backbone of many schools’ security plans. School resource officers can not only deter potential threats but also respond effectively when incidents occur. Private schools may wish to consider the value of contracting either private security or off-duty police officers to provide this same level of support.
While some schools may see the presence of armed security on campus as a detriment to the learning environment, others find that well-trained school resource officers become a part of their community.
- Develop and train on an emergency response plan
An effective emergency response plan can mitigate the impact of any incident. This plan should include evacuation procedures, communication channels, and first aid measures and define the involvement of emergency responders. This plan helps ensure everyone in the school, as well as your first responders, understand the appropriate response to unforeseen events.
Unlike public schools, private schools are not required to have an emergency response plan. However, this essential planning can make a critical difference in safely supporting your students through a disaster. Moreover, many organizations provide free resources or templates for developing an emergency response plan, including FEMA, the Department of Homeland Security, and the I Love U Guys Foundation. These documents are well-researched, well-written, and easy to implement. Your state Department of Education may also be able to provide guidance ranging from free plan templates to on-site support.
- Policies and procedures
While your emergency response plan prescribes action in the face of a security threat, your policies and procedures are essential for maintaining a secure environment every day. These policies can define processes like visitor management, access control, and cybersecurity. For example, a policy against tailgating – when an individual who has authorized access into the school holds the door open to let the person behind them in – or against allowing students or staff to let strangers in via side doors can be an essential security measure. To be effective, policies and procedures must be comprehensive and well-communicated within your school.
- Train repeatedly and build awareness
Regular training around security and awareness sessions for staff and students is essential. They ensure everyone knows what to do in case of an emergency. Regular drills and frequent training can be essential in driving decisive action in the event of a crisis. Training ensures your policies and procedures are followed and your technology investment is not wasted.
Awareness of safety procedures is also important for parents. Private schools tend to have an advantage when it comes to parent engagement. Leverage this advantage by building a culture of safety and awareness that extends to your entire school community. This begins with frequent, open communication with parents about the value of your school security approach and how they can support it.
Private schools may also wish to borrow an awareness strategy from public schools and create a behavioral threat assessment team focused on students’ behavioral health needs. This is a dedicated team within your school that helps gauge whether a child is simply acting out or may be dealing with deeper issues that need to be addressed. This team often consists of the administrator, teachers at each grade level, a mental health professional (either a school counselor or contracted community partner), and in some cases clergy members as well.
Build a safer future for our children
It can be tempting for private schools to define school shootings and other tragedies as a public school problem. Data from the CATO Institute found that, as of 2018, 94 percent of school shootings occur in public schools compared to 6 in private schools. However, lower risk is not the same as zero risk.
Many parents are considering making a switch to private schools today specifically over concerns around their children’s safety. This makes it even more imperative to have strong processes, well-trained people, and appropriate security technology in your facility.
Private school security planning is a multifaceted process that requires a deep understanding of potential threats, effective strategies, and continuous learning. The question is, are you ready to take this challenge head-on and build a safer school for our children?
Changes to Texas School Safety Requirements from the 88th Texas Legislative Session
Wrapping up on May 29th, the 88th Texas Legislative session stands as a milestone, introducing legislative progress regarding school safety and security since the 86th session back in 2019. In response to a significant school tragedy in our State and incidents in other states, the Governor and other key State leaders dedicated considerable focus to enhancing school safety and security in the 88th Texas Legislative session.
This summary serves as a valuable reference guide to the comprehensive collection of bills and rule sections related to school safety and security. The goal of this summary is to assist school officials in understanding the vital information they need.
CRUX is here to help. Let our risk management and security professionals think through your options and develop a strategy that’s right for you.
Read the full report here: 88th Texas Legislative Session CRUX Summary
What Architects and Administrators Need to Know about Building Safer Schools, Part 2: Human Behavior
As we discussed in Part 1 of our series on what architects and administrators need to know about building safer schools, good architectural design can be a useful strategy for mitigating the potential for violence at schools. However, many of the risks that schools face are the result of human behavior.
After all, schools can feature the most sophisticated design and advanced technology in the world, but without training on or adherence to response protocols, those investments are worse than worthless. A lack of clear protocols and consistent training can be downright dangerous.
Below are four key areas where human behavior can create safer school environments.
1. Reliance on security and emergency operations plans
An emergency operations plan (EOP) – also known as an emergency plan, emergency action plan, emergency response plan or crisis plan, – addresses threats and hazards specific to each school. It addresses safety needs before, during, and after an incident. And, in many states, it’s required by your school district.
However, even districts that do have an EOP in place don’t always update or train on this documentation regularly. When CRUX performs school security audits, we frequently find that staff does not know where to find their EOP binder. In other cases, those documents may no longer be applicable because they cite roles that no longer exist. Updating those EOPs on a regularly scheduled basis, and practicing what’s in it, is of paramount importance.
- Resources you can use: EOPs can be aligned with the national approach to preparedness efforts. Presidential Policy Directive (PPD)-8 defines preparedness around five mission areas: Prevention, Protection, Mitigation, Response, and Recovery. Schools can take action on prevention, protection and mitigation activities before an incident occurs, although these three mission areas have ongoing activities that can occur throughout an incident. For more information about PPD-8, visit the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Learn About Presidential Policy Directive-8 webpage.
2. Forming the right threat assessment team
A school threat assessment team analyzes communication and behaviors to determine whether a student, faculty or staff member, or other individual may pose a threat. The team should serve as a central convening body to ensure that warning signs observed by multiple people are reported and not dismissed as isolated incidents. This body can identify when these warning signs may represent escalating behavior that could present a serious concern. If a student is exhibiting a specific type of behavior, action can be taken ranging from counseling to a psychiatric follow-up outside of school.
Threat assessment team members should include school principals, counselors, employees, medical and mental health professionals, law enforcement personnel, and school resource officers (SROs), where applicable.
A particular challenge here is that not all schools or school districts have access to the mental health professionals who can support adolescents who may demonstrate these warning signs. It’s important to talk with your community partners and state Department of Education to identify resources in the event that action may be warranted.
- Resources you can use: The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) provides a threat assessment document that can provide schools with useful guidance. The Secret Service provides an operational guide targeted towards conducting threat assessments in the school environment.
3. Consistent training for all staff on district and campus safety procedures
Training is critical for ensuring that best practices are followed. We see this training in action in the fire drills schools have been conducting for decades. More recently this has expanded, in accordance with more encompassing EOPs, to include action plans for various natural disasters as well as response to active shooters.
The challenge is that every school district faces its own specific threats, and may have its own way of responding to these threats. So, in areas with mobile populations of teachers and staff, people may bring familiar practices with them from other districts. These conflicting practices can send mixed signals to students and fellow staff members. Regular training on district- and school-specific safety protocols, as guided by the EOP, is critical for ensuring a timely, consistent response to any emerging threat.
- Resources you can use: The “I Love U Guys” foundation offers “standard response protocols” for a range of emergencies that can impact a school campus. Standard response protocols utilize standardized terminology to help everyone better understand the conditions and the appropriate response. Studies have shown that standard response protocols enable rapid response determination during unforeseen events.
This national organization has created a foundation for crisis response programs that is in use at more than 30,000 schools, districts, departments, agencies, organizations and communities around the world.
4. Ensuring systems and hardware work at all times
In June 2022, Texas’ Governor Abbott told the state’s education commissioner that school districts should conduct weekly checks of exterior doors to ensure they lock. This is an excellent practice for ensuring exterior doors are secured and functioning properly. However, this practice is only effective in the event that faulty hardware is reported and repaired in a timely manner.
Schools should evaluate their work order process and prioritize the requests. How quickly are repairs typically made? What sort of follow-up processes are in place to verify that repairs are made? Streamlining the work order process using an electronic submission process may be a good first step toward speeding these repairs, but it remains critical to have a verification process in place.
- Resource you can use: The Partner Alliance for Safer Schools (PASS) offers free guidelines to help school administrators in assessing and prioritizing their school security needs. This includes guidance around door hardware. These guidelines are supported by a checklist that can help determine where security best practices may need to be implemented.
Put sound security practices in place
Schools can’t automate their way to a safer environment. As much as we may want to rely on cameras and card readers and other sophisticated solutions, technology alone can’t solve the problem. While technology can be an effective complement to school security policies, it’s critical to have people who are trained on how to do the right things, at the right time.
Fortunately, there are organizations just as committed to improving school safety as you are. In addition to the resources noted above, CRUX works hard to help create safer environments for our communities. Contact us to learn more about how we can help your school.
Tips for Choosing the Right School Technology for Online and Hybrid Learning
While online learning opportunities are now better understood, this new phase of education had a rocky start. Because of the abrupt transition from in-person to online education demanded by COVID-19, schools faced a steep learning curve as they developed online and hybrid learning experiences. Although not ready for the change, schools were forced to adapt or risk losing all connection with students. Many districts stepped up to the plate, and practically overnight, figured out a makeshift plan.
This new approach to learning also presented rigorous challenges to students, parents, and educators. And yet, studies show that even post-pandemic, online learning will retain a strong foothold in the education ecosystem. According to experts in economics and education, a confluence of forces will likely fuel continued demand for online teaching. While most schools already have at least temporary means for providing online education in place, it’s imperative to reevaluate those solutions and develop an ongoing school technology and infrastructure strategy to continue supporting online and hybrid learning.
In this article, we will explore the challenges and benefits presented by supporting online and hybrid learning, and the technology that can help students, teachers, and schools be successful.
The Challenges of Online Learning
As every school district has realized, online learning is not without its challenges. Here are some of the top struggles that districts have faced.
1. Keeping students engaged. The shift to online learning happened quickly. Teachers, many of whom had never taught online, had to adapt lesson plans for digital instruction. Students needed to adjust to a new method of learning, and for many, it was harder to pay attention to a screen than in-person instruction.
2. Figuring out technology requirements. With the quick shift to digital, many districts hadn’t mapped out their technology needs, such as network requirements, which hindered their ability to create a plan and select and implement a technical solution.
3. Securing sensitive information. Security is always a top concern for school districts and many were left unsure of how to secure sensitive information and protect portals to their networks.
A Blended Approach to Learning: The Hybrid Model
Perhaps the biggest challenge of online learning stems from the misconception that technology, alone, can transform education. Adopting a blend of online and in-person instruction helps schools seize the opportunities that online learning has to offer, such as asynchronous learning, self-paced lessons, additional one-on-one instruction, better testing and accountability, and more.
San Antonio Superintendent Pedro Martinez says, “I think the right mix is the reverse of what we have now. My ideal is when we can have 70 percent of students in-person and 30 percent remote.”
Enter the hybrid learning model.
And San Antonio isn’t alone. Ten percent of district leaders surveyed by the RAND Corporation last fall said they had adopted or were considering a hybrid instructional model. Another 19 percent said they were at least considering offering ongoing online instruction.
Online learning is here to stay. While there are some undeniable challenges to online learning, potential benefits are equally impossible to ignore.
The Top Three Benefits of Online Learning
Online learning provides many opportunities for both individual students and entire districts. Here are some of the top benefits of online and hybrid learning.
1. Flexible learning and preparation for future employment. Some students have selected online learning as their education format of choice. With digital instruction, students can pursue asynchronous learning, which is when students can learn at their own pace and on their own schedules. It works well for self-motivated learners who do not need guidance to complete their assignments.
Online learning serves students beyond the classroom, too, because it prepares them for remote employment opportunities (a growing trend even before COVID-19). By mastering digital literacy skills required for online learning, such as video conferencing technologies, PowerPoint, and Excel, future professionals stand out in a competitive job market.
2. Bridging the distance between districts. The current education ecosystem is divided into two types of districts: focus districts and non-focus districts. Focus districts are defined by the RAND Corporation as agencies wherein the student population is 50 percent Black or Hispanic/Latino, or wherein at least 50 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. Focus districts often don’t have the same resources as non-focus districts, such as AP classes or a wide range of language class offerings, which puts their students at a disadvantage when it comes to learning opportunities.
Technology, along with online instruction, can level the learning field. For example, schools can share resources with one another, connect with students across districts, and conduct those lessons remotely. By using remote education to bridge the distance between districts, students now have the opportunity to explore subjects otherwise unavailable to them.
3. Opening the classroom to all students, regardless of ability. Online, students can learn from the comfort and safety of their own homes. With online and hybrid instruction, students who are comfortable with a subject won’t be forced to slow down for the students who are struggling. With asynchronous learning, teachers can pay closer attention to each student’s performance and better support the students who need more help with one-on-one, individualized instruction.
Making the transition to online learning is important, but finding the right technology is key to enabling teachers to teach and learners to learn.
Five Questions to Help You Find the Best School Technology for Your District’s Needs
As we’ve noted, there are two major philosophical approaches to virtual learning: the hybrid model, which involves both live and online classes, and self-paced computer-based learning, done totally online, with a teacher proctoring and tracking progress. Regardless of which philosophical approach your school takes, successfully moving to an online learning model requires the right school technology to support the transition. Because online learning is different from traditional face-to-face learning, it requires different strategies to keep students actively engaged. Although engagement is a monumental challenge, the right school technology solution can help.
When considering an online learning model, here are questions a district needs to ask in order to select the best school technology solution:
1. How many classes are going to use an online learning model? This is critical for selecting a scalable solution.
2. What subjects will be offered online? Teachers can require very different solutions to support teaching styles and subjects. Evaluate if the instruction is going to be conducted while sitting or moving because this can create audio and video complexities. For example, a math class is going to be more stationary while a science class may incorporate an experiment and require movement and multiple cameras to provide important views. Choose a technology that enables, rather than hinders, learning.
3. What grade levels will be using this technology? Each age group may require a different approach to achieve active engagement. For example, what engages a third-grader will be quite different from what engages a tenth grader.
4. Will this technology support users? This is a nuanced question. From students to teachers, it’s important to make sure that everyone using the technology is comfortable with it. Including staff training will better set your school up for success. Make sure to also consider students’ learning speeds and environments, as well as the various levels of parental engagement to support students.
5. How do we pay for this? Figuring out funding can seem overwhelming, but don’t forget that many resources are available, such as funding options offered by select vendors and TPA COVID-19 relief money. As an example, at the end of 2020, Texas voters approved a $90-million bond to pay for new technology—including cameras and microphones—that will be used to broadcast teachers working from their classrooms into the homes of thousands of students.
While determining the right school technology solution requires the consideration of many variables, the best solution should be scalable, engaging, and accessible. If you need help selecting your school technology solution, figuring out your network requirements, or want to ensure that you’re keeping your information secure, talk to a professional.
That’s where Crux comes in.
CTA: Crux can help
Building a virtual learning environment that actively engages students, helps level the educational playing field, and protects information is a daunting challenge. But you don’t have to do it alone. Crux is here to help you understand your options and help you create a safe, connected environment. Our team is equipped to assist with connectivity, LTE network, budget, and more.
Connect with Crux, and together, we can create a roadmap for your district’s success!
Liberty Hill ISD Embraces Fiber Rich Networks
School Sees Major Benefits from Fiber-Rich Network
Liberty Hill ISD becomes one of the first (if not THE first) school districts in Texas to see the benefits of using “fiber to the edge” technology and is rolling it out in their new Santa Rita Elementary School, which is set to open in 2020. Santa Rita will serve 800 students in its nearly 106,000 square feet of new space.
The District is focused on creating space that is flexible and adaptable, so the use of wireless networks will be pervasive. With the ever-increasing demands of wireless, and overall data networks evolving faster than ever, the District’s IT leaders are under pressure to provide technologies that are fast, reliable and future proof. CRUX and LHISD’s IT team did a lot of research and determined that going with an Optical Local Area Network (OLAN) was the right solution.
There are even more market factors to consider when thinking about the data network in today’s schools:
- The steady increase in the demand for bandwidth. Overall, bandwidth has increased 45x since 2012 and will double again by 2020.
- Personal expectations are expanding rapidly. People commonly have multiple devices, requiring ubiquitous connections to provide ever-richer user experiences.
- Formerly independent systems continue finding their way onto the data network. Systems such as building automation, audio-visual, low voltage intelligent lighting, and many others meld with the unpredictable demands from the Internet of Things.
- IT is no longer exempt from the growing pressure to contribute to sustainability, LEED, Energy Star, or other green building programs.
- There is always an imperative to maximize every dollar and drive down operations costs, now more than ever.
- Traditional IT space is at a premium, and doing more with less is becoming a necessity in modern network designs.
Advantages of OLAN
While OLAN offers the right technical solution, the team needed to see how the market would price it as compared to a traditional network design. With that in mind, the design and construction team decided to ask bidders to price the new school with both a traditional copper-based network that the school district traditionally has used, versus an optical fiber-based network. The OLAN came in at a competitive price, validating the overall concept.
OLAN is the right choice for many other reasons, such as those listed in the following graphic.
The cost advantages for Santa Rita are compelling enough on their own, but the story gets better. Design is already underway on the new middle school in Liberty Hill ISD, and because the OLAN can extend the network 12 miles or more, the new middle school can be tied into Santa Rita’s optical network saving even more money and keeping the network simple.
In conclusion, Liberty Hill ISD is moving forward with OLAN because it delivers a high-performance future-proof network, consumes less power and space, uses less expensive cabling materials that don’t need to be replaced, and costs less to build and maintain. It is a Win/Win/Win/Win.
If you want to learn more about fiber-rich networks then I encourage you to read our whitepaper that is available here.
Safer schools in Stephenville, Texas
The Stephenville ISD has a lot going on these days and provides an excellent example of how the Architect, Huckabee, and Crux are partnering for our client’s success. The District has undertaken a massive renovation to their high school, along with more modest work at the adjacent intermediate school. Crux was pleased to be included as the technology and security design partner for both projects. The high school reno is quite extensive, which means it is quite complex. Together we have walked the District through a variety of technology and security options to finally arrive at the right answer for them.
Crux helped the District resolve a problem with their existing access control system that was so painful that they had decided to replace the existing system across all campuses, which would cost many thousands of dollars and cause disruption to a critical security system. We worked with the manufacturer and a good installation contractor to find a solution. They did just that, allowing the District to keep their existing investment while meeting their operational needs.
During all this, the SISD Board wanted to learn more about metal detectors, which had become a hot topic among some influential voices in their community. The Superintendent reached out to Huckabee, who, in turn, reached out to us. We reacted on short notice to provide a briefing to the Board. That created further conversation with the Board’s safety committee, which led to us contracting directly with the District to create an overall safety improvement plan, which we refer to as the Roadmap to Safer Schools. Yet again, great teamwork between Huckabee and Crux are helping to create safer schools and better learning environments for students in Stephenville ISD.
Changes to Texas School Safety Requirements from the 86th Texas Legislative Session – Part 5 – Threat Assessment Teams
In our previous post, we explored aspects of changes from the 86th Texas Legislative session related to socio-emotional health. We discussed most of those in the last post. Now let’s look at one additional aspect of it.
Senate Bill 11 (SB 11), the flagship bill, expands the use of threat assessment teams and requires the implementation of a safe and supportive schools program. Both threat assessment teams and a safe and supportive schools program span across the emergency preparedness and mental health areas of school safety. In fact, SB 11 addresses them in the same section of the bill that talks about emergency drills and terroristic threat notifications. We include them in our review of mental health-related changes because of how they support mental health interventions and action plans.
The bill’s implementing language is quite specific. It creates a new sub-section 37.115 to the Texas Education Code (TEC) that spells out various duties. It charges –
- The Texas Education Agency (TEA) to work with the Texas School Safety Center (TxSSC) to create rules for implementing a safe and supportive schools program.
- The local board of trustees to create policies and procedures for implementing threat assessment and safe and supportive schools teams at each campus.
- The superintendent to create the teams with the specified mix of skill sets and to provide for their oversight.
- The teams with carrying out a range of duties related to threat assessment, student and employee guidance, and implementing the district’s all-hazards emergency operations plan.
- The teams with reporting various data to the TEA
The TEA will need to clarify various aspects of this new section. As is typical with new legislation, it leaves much to interpretation.
Threat assessment teams in education originated from research published in 2002 by the U.S. Secret Service and the U.S. Department of Education. Many school districts have already embraced some form of them. The new law will likely standardize how they are implemented. The TxSSC has launched a series of training sessions to be conducted across the State of Texas over the next several months.
Some school districts are already using techniques from the safe and supportive schools program. Note that this is not the same thing as Safe and Sound Schools. The former is a body of knowledge and techniques that is organized and offered by the U.S. Department of Education. The latter is a private non-profit organization that grew out of the Sandy Hook tragedy. Both are excellent resources.
Changes to Texas School Safety Requirements from the 86th Texas Legislative Session – Part 4 – Socio-Emotional Health
In our previous post we explored aspects of changes from the 86th Texas Legislative session related to emergency preparedness. Now let’s look at changes related to socio-emotional health.
Let’s explore changes to the Texas Education Code (TEC) from the 86th Texas Legislative session that relate to mental health and socio-emotional wellness. The primary bill is Senate Bill 11 (SB 11), formally titled:
AN ACT relating to policies, procedures, and measures for school safety and mental health promotion in public schools and the creation of the Texas Child Mental Health Care Consortium.
There are, as the title suggests, many changes to TEC Chapter 38 (Health and Safety) and the Texas Health and Safety Code. School staff should read through these parts of SB 11 carefully. There is a lot to it. One way of getting a handle on it is to group the changes thematically –
- Increased awareness and education for parents, teachers, and students
- How we teach students
- Mental health resources and support for school districts
- Threat assessment teams, and safe and secure schools program
The new laws attempt to raise awareness of mental health issues in several ways. For parents and families, the local school health advisory council is charged with recommending strategies for parental awareness. School districts are encouraged to create educational materials for parents that discuss risk factors, treatment options, and resources related to mental health, substance abuse, and suicide.
For teachers, recurring training about how grief and trauma impact learning is now required, where it previously was optional. For students, there are new curriculum requirements in SB 11. The enrichment curriculum expands the definition of health into the now separate components of physical health, mental health, and suicide prevention, and provides guidance for the latter two. The State Board of Education is charged with adding digital citizenship to State curriculum, covering both cyberbullying and healthy online behaviors.
In terms of how we teach, the new laws emphasize trauma-informed care. Provisions for it must now be included in the district improvement plan. As mentioned previously, training for teachers on the effect of trauma on learning and in the use of trauma-informed strategies in teaching is now required. The biggest change from SB 11 is the creation of an entirely new Education Code Section 38.036, titled Trauma-Informed Care Policy. The intention is to integrate trauma-informed practices throughout a school district. It addresses policy, methods, training, and accountability. Interestingly, it specifically allows a school district to partner with community mental health organizations when it lacks resources of its own.
To support districts with improving mental health outcomes, SB 11 adds a new sub-chapter F, Mental Health Resources, to Chapter 38. It directs the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and the regional service centers, in conjunction with several other State agencies, to identify mental health resources and community-based programs available to school districts. The Communities in Schools programs are specifically named as part of this. The initial rubric called for in sub-chapter F is to be issued by the TEA to the service centers by December 1, 2019. The Legislature seems to want a sense of urgency around this. On a more strategic level, the new law calls for the creation of a Texas Child Mental Health Consortium. Its purpose is stated as: “leverage the expertise and capacity of the health-related institutions of higher education… to address urgent mental health challenges and improve the mental health care system in this state in relation to children and adolescents.”
The final major theme addressed by the new legislation is the use of threat assessment teams and safe and secure schools programs. We will cover those changes in our next post.
The Legislature passed several new laws that impact school safety and impose new responsibilities upon public school districts, charter schools, the Texas Education Agency, and the Texas School Safety Center. We have created a free guide that summarizes the bills and how they may impact you. Click here for a free download.
Changes to Texas School Safety Requirements from the 86th Texas Legislative Session – Part 3
In our previous post we explored aspects of changes from the 86th Texas Legislative session related to facility hardening and hostile events. Now let’s look at changes related to emergency preparedness.
Senate Bill 11 (SB 11) Section 10 is the cornerstone of the preparedness changes. Please read this bill in its entirety to understand it fully. As it goes with changes to law, much of it begs further clarification as to what it means exactly. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) and the Texas School Safety Center (TxSSC) will need time to set rules and issue guidance.
Leaders of open enrollment charter schools take note. Not only are there major changes to the rules, most of them now apply to you.
Previously, the education code required each district to have a multihazard emergency operations plan (EOP), but there was little oversight. Now, plans must be submitted regularly to the TxSSC for review (Section 15), the deadlines for submission are to be determined. There are now also consequences for non-compliance (Section 11), including requiring the Board of Trustees to hold a public hearing about it. The Legislature seems to have opted for calling the district out publicly for the first level of enforcement.
EOP requirements are strengthened and expanded in several ways. Essentially all the changes are additive to the existing requirements. The Legislature took little away. Here are some key points, with quotation marks representing exact wording in the bill.
- More focus on ensuring substitute teachers are trained appropriately to act as regular staff in both drill and live situations. Their readiness is a weak aspect of many districts’ training programs and daily operations.
- Ensuring classrooms have technology to allow for “immediate contact” with emergency services. Clarification is needed on questions like whether 911 calls can be made or disallowed from classrooms, or what emergency services means.
- “Measures to ensure district communications technology and infrastructure are adequate to allow for communication during an emergency”.
- Designation of a chain of command and alternate contacts for emergency response.
- Preparations for addressing psychological safety of students, staff and the community both during and after an event. There is quite a bit of language about this topic.
- Accommodations for people with disabilities to have “equal access to safety”.
- “…immediate notification to parents… in circumstances involving a significant threat to the health or safety of students…”. We will need a lot of agency help to figure this out.
The three year cycle for facility safety and security audits remains intact. The audit report must now be signed by both the board president and the superintendent. There always was a requirement to submit audit reports to TxSSC but now there are more meaningful consequences if you don’t. Like with EOPs, there are now consequences for not addressing the audit findings. Again, the Legislature appears to be driving accountability for taking this seriously.
There are significant changes to both the membership and duties of a district safety committee. The new membership is essentially what was suggested in Governor Abbott’s May 2018 plan and adds city/county emergency management, law enforcement, district trustees (board president plus one), teachers and parents. The committee must meet at least three times per year and conform to the open meetings act. Its duties are expanded to include making recommendations for updating the EOP. Bottom line, the safety committee is intended to be broader in makeup, much more active and influential than in the past.
Finally, House Bill 496 establishes requirements for having traumatic injury (stop the bleed) kits and training. This major gap in our preparedness is finally being addressed.
We will cover new mental health related requirements in our next posts.
The Legislature passed several new laws that impact school safety and impose new responsibilities upon public school districts, charter schools, the Texas Education Agency, and the Texas School Safety Center. We have created a free guide that summarizes the bills and how they may impact you.
Changes to Texas School Safety Requirements from the 86th Texas Legislative Session – Part 2
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