Gov. Greg Abbott directed the Texas Education Agency on Thursday to create a school safety and security chief who would report directly to the state education commissioner, but the move is unlikely to reassure school personnel, who a recent survey showed are worried about a shooting happening at their schools.
The chief of school safety and security will be charged with implementing policies adopted by the Legislature and taking whatever action possible to safeguard schools against shootings and other dangers, according to Abbott’s letter to Education Commissioner Mike Morath. The letter comes just over two weeks after an 18-year-old gunman killed 19 fourth-graders and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde.
“The task of ensuring the safety of our schools and students is not solely held within one entity in the state, but encompasses many different agencies and divisions, all with different charges and authority in implementing legislation and making recommendations for future policy changes,” Abbott wrote in the letter. “While we have seen these agencies work together earnestly in the wake of the tragedy in Uvalde, a single point of contact to coordinate such efforts, now and in the future, would further improve their services.”
The chief of school safety and security should be a “recognized expert on school security and public safety issues, an effective coordinator of multidisciplinary teams, a resource to school districts and the Legislature, and effective at implementing programs,” according to Abbott’s letter. The chief would work with the TEA, Texas School Safety Center, Department of Public Safety and other state agencies.
Abbott’s directive comes on the heels of a new survey showing that almost all those working in Texas schools worry about a shooting happening at their school. But the survey by the Texas American Federation of Teachers also shows that more than three-quarters of school personnel have no desire to carry a gun to confront a shooter.
Texas AFT, the state’s branch of the national teachers union, conducted the survey of 5,100 K-12 school and higher education employees, parents and community leaders in the week after the shooting in Uvalde. More than 300 San Antonio school workers responded to the survey.
“The Uvalde shooting has added another layer — outright fear — to the reasons why teachers are questioning their profession,” Texas AFT President Zeph Capo said. “They know that they would put themselves in the line of fire to save their students, and they also know that more guns inside schools are not the answer.”
More than 4,600 school staff members responded to the survey, including 3,673 K-12 teachers. Of those respondents, 90% said they have worried about a shooting happening at their school, and 42% said the Uvalde shooting may influence their decision to return to work in the fall.
Nicole Hill, the union’s lead digital organizer, said during a Wednesday press conference that the threat of gun violence will only exacerbate the existing teacher and school staff retention crisis. When AFT surveyed members earlier this year, 66% said they were considering leaving the profession.
“We really do have a potential problem come August,” she said.
Capo said he hears from members daily about concerns that state leaders and lawmakers want teachers to carry guns and confront potential school shooters. They ask how these state leaders expect teachers to pay for a gun and weapons training when they consistently have to use their own paychecks to make sure students have the school supplies they need.
“We’ve got to get past these boy-toy kind of solutions that are completely disconnected from anything that has to do with schools and get very real about what the solutions are that matter,” he said.
In the wake of the 2018 Santa Fe High School shooting — in which a 17-year-old killed 10 classmates and injured 13 others in a town southeast of Houston — the state Legislature adopted laws to increase funding for school safety. Part of that legislation distributed $100 million in grants for schools to “harden” campuses, making them more secure in order to deter potential violence and other risks.
Capo said of that $100 million, Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District received about $69,000 to help make its schools safer.
“That’s not a serious number when we’re talking about the funding necessary to make sure that schools are safe,” he said. “We may have started down the road, but we’ve certainly not finished the road of actually providing necessary and adequate funding for our public spaces, in particular schools, to ensure that they’re safe for our students and our educators.”
Almost all survey respondents — 96% — supported increasing public education funding for more mental health resources for students and to implement stronger security upgrades. Again, most surveyed want to see stricter gun control measures, including comprehensive background checks for purchases from all gun sellers, raising the minimum age for gun purchases to 21, banning assault weapons and instituting “red flag” warnings to stop people undergoing extreme emotional or mental health issues from buying guns.
The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday passed a package of gun control measures that include raising the eligible age for certain gun purchases to 21, but the legislation is unlikely to win Senate approval.
Katrina Rasmussen, a Dallas ISD teacher, said she, like many of her colleagues, is weighing whether this profession is worth risking her life.
“Public education should be the pride of a healthy democracy, but it has become a battleground. And the blood shed is the blood of children,” she said. “At what point do we stop sacrificing our kids, our educators, our school staff on the altar of political pettiness?”