Gov. Greg Abbott announces school safety plan and proposed changes to gun laws after Santa Fe

By Brandon Formby and Emma Platoff

Additional Reporting by KSAT's Courtney Friedman:

SAN MARCOS, Texas (KSAT) - Gov. Greg Abbott's second school safety plan announcement was made in Hays County on Wednesday because the sheriff's office has developed a standard response protocol that the governor now wants to use all over the state.

The protocol trains students and staff at every school in the county, setting up communication with law enforcement.

What arming staff at Texas schools really means

"For the governor to mention us in this meeting up there three days after 10 people were shot and killed, it's overwhelming. I mean, we want to do our share," Hays County Sheriff Gary Cutler said.

Abbott said the full plan provides more than $125 million in funding to help schools implement solutions immediately before the school year starts in the fall, at no cost.

The top funding priority before school starts is more law enforcement presence at campuses.

"This includes adding schools to regular patrol routes, allowing officers to use campus facilities for routine breaks or to file reports," Abbott said.

The plan would also fund a controversial topic: arming teachers and other staff members and training them for active shooter situations.

Abbott pointed out that several students and parents from Santa Fe High School requested more "school marshals" and said current schools are finding success.

However, the governor was also reminded that there were Santa Fe students and parents at his meeting that did not want armed teachers. To that he said, "I do point out in here that it may not be the right strategy for all schools. That's why, in my recommendation, I do not mandate all schools use it."

The topic itself being in the governor's plan pulled a response from the Texas State Teachers Association. It released the following statement:

"Teachers are trained to teach and to nurture, not double up as security guards. Answering a National Education Association survey conducted earlier this year, 82 percent of teachers and other school employees throughout the country, including 63 percent of gun owners, said they would not carry a gun to school. They know they are no match for heavily armed, suicidal intruders intent on killing."

Other strategies on Abbott's list mentioned Wednesday include the following:

  • Increase active shooter training, which will be free for the remainder of this calendar year.

  • Add active shooter alarms that sound different than fire alarms.

  • Expand campus crime stoppers programs, making it easier for students to anonymously report threatening or suspicious behavior with upgraded mobile app "I Watch Texas."

  • Mental health screening program developed at Texas Tech and used at districts in West Texas

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DALLAS (Texas Tribune)- Less than two weeks after 10 people were killed in a southeast Texas school shooting, Gov. Greg Abbott laid out a 40-page, 40-strategy plan for preventing future school shootings, and left the door open to calling lawmakers back to Austin  to pass some of those priorities.

Read Governor Abbott’s School and Firearm Safety Action Plan

"If there is consensus on some laws that could be passed, I am open to calling [a special session]," Abbott said. 

A special session would be a dramatic move during an election year in which he, all top state officials and a majority of lawmakers are seeking new terms. It’s even more rare given how emotionally charged — and politically divisive — issues of school safety and gun control are. 

Prominent Texas House Republican asks Abbott to call special session on school shootings

Some lawmakers have demanded that Abbott, who has the sole authority to call and set agendas for special sessions, take such action. Most Texans responding to a poll taken before the Santa Fe shooting said they support stricter gun control laws.

 

 

Much of the plan Abbott laid out Wednesday would require approval from the Texas Legislature, which will not reconvene until January 2019 unless Abbott intervenes.

"This plan is a starting point, not an ending place," Abbott said in a statement. "It provides strategies that can be used before the next school year begins to keep our students safe when they return to school. This plan will make our schools safer and our communities safer."

Santa Fe school shooting

Suspected shooter Dimitrios Pagourtzis, a 17-year-old junior at the high school, has been in custody in Galveston County since the attack at Santa Fe High School. 

Abbott’s announcement, made at the Dallas school district’s headquarters Wednesday, came one day after Santa Fe students returned to class for the first time following the deadly shootings. Thirteen people were also injured in the attack.

Justin Timberlake Visits Santa Fe High School Shooting Survivor at Hospital: Pic

Abbott proposed expanding a mental health screening program already operated through Texas Tech University. He said he hopes to "eventually" make that program — currently operational in 10 school districts — a statewide system, and said he recommends Texas fund it with $20 million.

The Telemedicine Wellness, Intervention, Triage, and Referral Project at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, which aims to identify junior high and high school students at risk of committing school violence and intervene before tragedy occurs, has already had 25 students removed from school, 44 placed in alternative schools and 38 sent to a hospital. Abbott had praised that program just hours after the shooting, tweeting that “we want to use it across the state.”

Santa Fe High School students to return to campus after shooting

Abbott also raised narrow, gun-related proposals, including the tightening of Texas' safe gun storage and laws. 

Current Texas law holds parents accountable when their minor children — under the age of 17 — access their loaded weapons. Because Pagourtzis was 17, his family won’t be liable under that law, though they are being sued under other, more general liability statutes. Abbott proposed raising that age to include 17-year-olds, a measure that would bring Texas in line with dozens of other states that have stricter child-access prevention laws.

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