What’s the state doing to make Texas schools safer? KSAT Explains

The position of the Chief of School Safety and Security was created in the wake of the Robb Elementary School shooting.

Passing by the Texas School Safety Center on a street corner in San Marcos, you would have little indication of the critically important mission that’s underway inside.

It’s not a flashy facility with high-tech gadgets.

Instead, it’s an ordinary office building showing signs of age and public funding, yet with an imperative statewide reach.

“The Texas School Safety Center was actually created in 1999, shortly after the Columbine school shooting,” said Kathy Martinez-Prather, Ph.D., who serves as director of the center.

Its purpose, she says, is “to officially serve as the central clearinghouse for school safety, to provide training, research and technical assistance to public schools.”

Some of that includes training for a school threat that’s far too familiar: an active shooter.

Chief of School Safety and Security

It was the murders of 19 children and 2 teachers in Uvalde that prompted Governor Greg Abbott to order the creation of a new position, Chief of School Safety and Security, within the Texas Education Agency.

The man who holds the position is John Scott.

“I spent the vast majority of my adult life protecting the most powerful people in the world, but now have the opportunity to use those skills to protect the most important people in the world, which are our children,” said Scott.

Scott has worked in a long list of roles in the United States Secret Service, some of which include serving as Assistant Special Agent in Charge in the North Texas District and in the Vice Presidential Protective Division in Washington, D.C.

“Coming from a career in the Secret Service, I’ve had the opportunity to set up and establish, run and supervise security operations at venues all across America and all across the world,” Scott said.

“I grew up in Texas schools. My kids went to Texas schools. My wife was a teacher in a Texas school,” he added.

Scott believes the new Office of School Safety and Security within the TEA professionalizes school safety in Texas.

“Before, not that there weren’t professionals out there, but it wasn’t an organized push or an organized program,” Scott said. “Now, with us, I think that we can bring some experience to the table, some techniques that, you know, seeing things not coming from the school environment. I see things a little differently.”

Scott says talks to school superintendents daily and that he shared his personal cell phone number with 1,400 of them.

He also communicates closely with the School Safety Center.

“We’re working in coordination with TEA, who serves as the regulatory entity, who will be checking to make sure that school districts are following these school safety mandates,” said Martinez-Prather.

Many of the training and resources provided by the Texas School Safety Center are done online.

Behavioral Threat Assessment Teams

Brian Clason is the Program Manager of Training and Education for the center.

A crucial part of his job, and that of the Texas School Safety Center as a whole, is to “take the laws that are on the books and any clarifications that come from TEA and create trainings for school districts and school-based law enforcement to utilize,” said Clason.

Laws created at the state capitol don’t often spell out how to put them into practice at the campus level.

Clason works to establish and train Behavioral Threat Assessment Teams for schools.

“Threat assessment teams are charged with identifying students around the pathway to violence,” he said.

In 2019, the state began requiring school districts to have such teams to serve every campus.

Each campus can have its own or the district can have a team that serves multiple campuses.

“We know that students often are the first to know about these types of threats. Leakage is very common. Someone knew something,” Martinez-Prather said. “And so part of the school Behavioral Threat Assessment training that we provide is really trying to educate these teams to go back and educate the parents and the students about identifying concerning behaviors.”

House Bill 3, signed into law this year, requires every campus to have a way for students to report concerning behavior.

School districts often have online reporting systems that can be found on district websites.


Keep in mind that some districts do not monitor reporting systems when school is not in session.

If it is an emergency, you should call 911.

“I say, walk me through a scenario where a parent or a student reports something during the school day, you’re staffed, you’re there, and you need to respond,” Clason says. “I also want to hear about a threat that comes in anonymously at midnight on Saturday. How do you guys get together and who’s determining if this is something that we need to act on now?”

Active Shooter Training & Intruder Detection Audits

Active shooter training is provided to law enforcement by the ALERRT center at Texas State University.

HB 3 requires all peace officers and school resource officers to get that training at least every four years.

The legislation also calls for annual intruder detection audits of schools, which began after the Robb Elementary school shooting.

The TEA oversees those audits.

Scott declined to share specifics about what those audits entail.

“You wouldn’t show a team your game plan,” he said. “The students don’t even know it’s occurring. Most staff don’t even know it’s occurring. But it’s a good check to make sure that what a superintendent believes is happening on their campuses is actually happening.”

HB 3 dictates there must be an armed officer on every school campus, but the state did not fund that mandate.

Some school districts are struggling to comply with the new law because they can’t afford it.

Schools can apply for an exemption to that requirement, as the San Antonio Independent School District has already done.

The state is providing an opportunity for schools to compete for grant money which will be doled out this fall and then again in early 2024.

Rep. Tony Gonzales held a roundtable discussion among local law enforcement and school personnel in August, during which concerns about a lack of funding to meet state requirements were echoed.

Gonzales said he has filed a grant request for federal dollars to help Texas schools get the money.


The state provides school safety funding on a per-student basis.

HB 3 increased that funding this year from $9.72 per student to $10.00 per student.

The legislation also provides every district with $15,000 for security measures.

Threats that are more common

The Texas School Safety Center also trains school personnel on how to deal with other threats that schools encounter more often like cyberbullying, extreme weather, hazardous materials and more.

In a recent survey, 40% of Texas schools reported having train tracks near campus.

“So do you know what’s on those trains? What kind of chemicals? What if there was a crash and there was a spill,” said Martinez-Prather.

The Texas School Safety Center is charged with reviewing every school’s emergency operations plans annually.

Every EOP must contain an active shooter response plan.

In a 2017 to 2020 audit of schools, only 200 of the 1,022 districts reviewed had what the safety center called a “viable” active shooter policy.

Data in a new district audit is currently being collected.

We asked Martinez-Prather whether the center has evidence or knowledge of times when violence was prevented through the training it provides.

“It’s hard to prove a negative. We know that they’re not happening every single day. And so there are going to be so many situations that we never hear about because they were averted,” she said.

“We may not be able to prevent these types of situations 100% of the time. But through school behavioral threat assessment done with fidelity, we can prevent them most of the time,” Martinez-Prather added.

Seven safety sectors

The Office of School Safety and Security has divided the state into seven safety sectors, which is a first for the state.

Each of those sectors will have dedicated employees charged with enhancing school safety in their sector.

Texas Education Agency sector map (TEA)

HB 3 dictates those employees must have safety experience at either the federal, state, local or school level.

It’s an effort to localize school safety and have personnel who are able to have a more thorough understanding of the schools in their sector, rather than having to do so for the whole state.

“It’s going to have to have security professionals out in the field to directly help schools,” Scott said. “They’ll be out there. They’ll know them on a first-name basis.

About the Authors:

Myra Arthur is passionate about San Antonio and sharing its stories. She graduated high school in the Alamo City and always wanted to anchor and report in her hometown. Myra anchors KSAT News at 6:00 p.m. and hosts and reports for the streaming show, KSAT Explains. She joined KSAT in 2012 after anchoring and reporting in Waco and Corpus Christi.