By BETHANY BLANKLEY
THE CENTER SQUARE CONTRIBUTOR
(The Center Square) – Gov. Greg Abbott directed the Texas Education Agency to create rules mandating enhanced safety standards for public schools in response to the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde that left 19 children and two teachers dead.
“In the wake of this devastating crime, we must redouble our efforts to ensure that our schools provide a safe and secure environment for the children of Texas,” Gov. Abbott wrote TEA Commissioner Mike Morath in a letter directing him to take more action. “You should immediately prepare additional rules to ensure that existing school facilities are also held to heightened safety standards. We must do everything possible to protect children and safeguard our schools.”
The governor directed TEA to instruct school districts to identify actions they can take prior to the start of the new school year that will make their campuses more secure, to conduct weekly inspections of exterior doors to verify they are secure during school hours, and to develop strategies to encourage school districts to increase the presence of trained law enforcement officers and school marshals on campuses.
In 2019, the state legislature passed Senate Bill 11, which the governor signed into law. It required the TEA to adopt rules to ensure that building standards for school district facilities were safe and secure. It also required TEA to review and amend the rules by Sept. 1, 2022.
While the TEA adopted rules creating standards for school districts to follow when new facilities were built, it didn’t adopt rules to ensure that existing school facilities were held to heightened safety standards.
There “is still more work to be done,” Gov. Abbott said.
He directed the TEA to “immediately prepare additional rules to ensure that existing school facilities are also held to heightened safety standards.”
He told Mr. Morath, “Your task is to provide ways to make schools safer.” He also directed him to determine the cost for school districts to comply with heightened safety standards for existing facilities.
The announcement came after Gov. Abbott issued a disaster declaration for the city of Uvalde to accelerate all available state and local resources to assist the community. He also authorized an initial $5 million to create a long-term Family Resiliency Center in Uvalde County to provide a range of community services, including access to the critical mental health resources.
Gov. Abbott requested legislative leaders to create special legislative committees to develop recommendations on school safety, mental health, social media, police training, and firearm safety among other issues. He also directed the Texas School Safety Center to immediately begin conducting comprehensive school safety reviews of all public schools in Texas.
The TxSSC, among other things, provides school law enforcement training and behavioral threat assessments to Texas public schools.
Texas “must work beyond writing words on paper,” ensure laws are being followed and “a culture of constant vigilance is engrained in every campus and in every school district employee across the state,” Gov. Abbott said.
In 2019, the legislature passed a bill that Gov. Abbott signed into law giving the TxSSC expanded authority to audit EOPs. If a school district fails to submit an EOP, the law stipulates that it must hold a meeting to notify the public of its noncompliance. If it doesn’t, the TEA can take over school leadership.
Gov. Abbott said he was working with the TEA “to hold accountable any ISD that is not in compliance with these standards.”