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In the wake of the deadliest school shooting in state history, the Texas Education Agency plans to check whether hundreds of thousands of external school building doors lock properly before the next school year begins.
TEA Commissioner Mike Morath told Texas senators Tuesday that the agency will review external entry points of every school in Texas, which is about 340,000 doors. It will evaluate school facilities to determine what repairs may be needed to secure campuses. There will also be a review of each district’s safety protocols and meetings held between state officials and each district’s school safety committee.
Morath’s comments came during a Texas Senate committee hearing about the shooting at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, during which a gunman killed 19 children and two teachers. At the same hearing, Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw said the law enforcement response to the shooting was an “abject failure” and police could have stopped the shooter three minutes after arriving. McCraw also told lawmakers the teacher who taught in the conjoined classrooms where the shooting occurred had flagged to the school administration that the door would not lock.
The Uvalde shooter entered the school through a back door, according to school surveillance footage. Authorities said a teacher closed the door and the automatic lock failed.
There are more than 1,200 school districts in Texas and more than 3,000 campuses, but Morath on Tuesday promised lawmakers that his agency’s plans to review doors and safety plans will be completed this summer.
In 2019, the Legislature passed Senate Bill 11, which tasks the Texas School Safety Center with making sure school districts have adequate emergency plans. The agency can call on the TEA to act as conservator to make sure plans are up to standard and school districts are compliant, Morath said.
Morath said the TEA has rule-making authority over things such as safety drills and threat exercises. The agency will come back to lawmakers once it has a dollar amount for how much hardware upgrades would cost, he said.
“We are moving with a great deal of speed on this,” he said.
In the weeks since the tragedy in Uvalde, questions have swirled around the actions of police and whether some lives could have been saved if officers confronted the barricaded gunman sooner. Authorities have shared conflicting information about who was in charge, who confronted the shooter and when. A debate over whether the locked classroom doors could be breached gave way to the discovery that they may never have been locked at all.
Morath spent much of his time Tuesday talking about SB 11 and what it did to “harden” schools, plus what powers it grants to him and to the safety center. Gov. Greg Abbott and other Republicans have touted the bill. But, the law may have fallen short.
Schools didn’t receive enough state money to make the types of physical improvements lawmakers are touting publicly. Few school employees signed up to bring guns to work. And many school districts either don’t have a plan for responding to an active shooting or produced insufficient ones.
Experts have said there is no indication that beefing up security in schools has prevented any violence. Plus, they said, it can be detrimental to children, especially children of color.
Morath also gave more information on the 18-year-old shooter. He started being chronically absent in the sixth grade and in his last year at Uvalde High School, he failed every class except web design. Bettencourt asked if anyone on the school’s threat assessment team should’ve noticed the chronic absenteeism and truancy as a red flag.
In Texas, it is mandated that schools have a safe and supportive school program team, which determines the risk an individual poses and what the appropriate intervention is.
“Any kind of ongoing absenteeism, I wouldn’t call it threat assessment,” Morath said. “The safe and supportive team should notice that and then begin the process of intervening.”
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