In the coming months, Parker County school districts will have to implement new school safety laws that were approved in the latest state legislative session, but some aspects of the new laws are things that districts have already been working on.
Last month, Gov. Greg Abbott signed three bills— Senate Bill 11, House Bill 18 and HB 1387—related to school safety. As a result of last year’s school shooting at Santa Fe High School, which is northwest of Galveston, Abbott declared school safety as an emergency item for the legislative session.
“After the horrific shooting in Santa Fe and the subsequent school safety roundtables, I made school safety an emergency item to help prevent a tragedy like this from happening again,” Abbott said when signing the bills, according to a press release. “Today, I am proud to sign legislation to make Texas schools safer for students and teachers. I thank members from both chambers, as well as the many stakeholders, who worked tirelessly to get these bills through the Legislature and to my desk today.”
SB 11 aims to strengthen emergency preparation and response protocols, threat assessment protocols, establishes Texas Child Mental Health Consortium and comes with extra funding for schools, among other things. HB 18 also focuses on mental health needs by increasing mental health training for district staff and is supposed to improve access to mental health and behavioral health services.
“Senate Bill 11, what that’ll do is put everyone on the same page of helping each other, with TEA, with Health Services, with school districts,” Brock ISD Student Services Director Jerry Hunkapiller said. “So, it’s a great deal. It’s going to do a lot of great things for kids and for schools.”
HB 1387 relates to the school marshal program by removing the cap for number of marshals on campuses.
Brock ISD, Weatherford ISD and Millsap ISD have guardian programs, which are different than marshal programs, so this new law may not affect these districts. Guardian programs allow some staff members to be armed at the discretion of the school board.
Now that these bills have been signed, schools need further guidance before being able to implement the new law.
“Although school districts, organizations, and service centers spend a great deal of time attempting to immediately understand and implement newly-passed legislation, many of the bills require the Commissioner of Education’s adoption of rules, release of approved programs, and interpretations,” Millsap ISD Superintendent Deann Lee said. “These particular bills also include other Texas agencies such as the Texas School Safety Center and the Health and Human Services Commission. Therefore, we must wait on their guidance before full implementation.”
Lee also said some bills may take longer to implement than others, noting that SB 18 makes note of deadlines in December and for next year.
Texas School Safety Center posted on their website that they are developing guidance and processes for the new laws.
“The TxSSC is working collaboratively with stakeholders as identified in SB 11 and other legislation, to ensure the development of effective guidance,” according to the post. “In the interim, we recommend that you access and review legislation appropriate to your school or district for these upcoming changes.”
For now, some districts say that the bills include measures that are already in place, and districts update safety and security protocols as needed. For example, WISD’s Safety and Security Director Bruno Dias said the district is ahead of the mandates related to mental health in SB 11 and HB 18 because of programs like the Behavior Emotional Social Support Team. Dias also said the emergency management processes were strengthened last school year.
“Weatherford ISD has been very proactive to implement processes that strengthen the safety and security of our campuses,” Dias said.
The new laws may allow schools to build upon training and protocols that are already in place to make them more specific. For example, Lee said the existing Multihazard Emergency Operations Plans will include more detail about trauma-informed care, and more emphasis is included in districts helping parents be aware of psychological issues per SB 11.
In HB 18, there will be more specifics on what staff training and student education should include for mental health, Lee said.
“Each school district has a School Health Advisory Council and the bill empowers it to provide more recommendations to the district in the area of mental health,” Lee said. “I am excited about the partnerships with mental health providers that are created and encouraged in this bill. We are blessed with providers who already work with the school, but this bill creates opportunities for those partnerships to grow even stronger.”
Hunkapiller also said being able to have the right tools, training and resources to identify kids in need, particularly concerning mental health needs, will be exciting.
“That’s going to be exciting to make sure we have everything we need to help a child,” Hunkapiller said.