We never want to think it could happen here. We always want to believe that we are somehow immune. That is human nature with most tragic events. Following the horrific school shootings in Parkland and Santa Fe almost one year ago, Texans can no longer hide behind these illusions. As the father of two young daughters in the public school system and husband to a former schoolteacher, I never want to look back and ask myself what I could have done as a legislator to help protect my loved ones and yours. With over five million students in public schools throughout our great state, school safety has to be a priority for our districts.
The tragic event in Parkland, Florida, shook our nation. That next day, I asked my staff to begin researching the issues related to school safety more closely. Then Santa Fe happened. Since I made that first request following Parkland, I have attended numerous school safety related committee hearings, met with experts from Sam Houston State University and the Texas State School Safety Center, and toured and spoken with various school districts. As a state, we are blessed to have the expertise and input of so many qualified individuals. I proudly filed numerous bills related to school safety, seizing upon the suggestions of our parents and teachers, students, administrators, and statewide experts.
Current law has certain minimum requirements for school safety, but no enforcement mechanism to ensure the cooperation of school districts. House Bill 973 puts consequences and teeth into these minimum standards. The Texas State School Safety Center would be responsible for identifying non-compliant districts, something they currently do anyway, and reporting those districts to the Texas Education Agency. TEA will then have the ability to level fines against non-compliant districts equal to the current annual salary of the district superintendent. These fines have to recognize the ability of a district to pay but be large enough to encourage compliance from school districts across the state. I believe HB 973 strikes that balance and will get a greater number of districts into compliance with minimum school safety practices. Fines collected will be used by TEA to assist school districts across the state with school safety. It is my hope that all districts will adhere to the existing school safety requirements.
House Bill 974 contains a few small but common sense changes to state law. Under current law, school districts have the ability to check the ID of a visitor on campus and are permitted to verify whether or not that person is a sex offender. HB 974 simply makes these provisions mandatory, with an exception for special events on campus. It is pretty common sense that you would identify campus visitors and check their status as a sex offender. Additionally, HB 974 contains a provision increasing the frequency of school safety audits from once every three years to once every two years. This will allow districts to find and address safety issues on a more frequent basis.
Under current law, school board members are required to undergo training with regards to topics like school finance, bond elections, and other subjects related to the running of a school district. School safety is not a required subject of training. House Bill 975 would require that school safety be an element of the required training for school board members. This will be developed by the State Board of Education in conjunction with the Texas School Safety Center. Board members can hardly be asked to address safety issues if they are not properly trained in the subject.
The sad reality under our current system is that not all districts properly prioritize safety or cooperate with those who do. That is why I filed House Bill 976, to bring all to the table to address school safety. House Bill 976 requires all school districts and public charter schools to implement the usage of safety committees and school safety drills. The majority of districts already comply with these policies, but some unfortunately ignore expert recommendations. HB 976 is essential in ensuring that some of the most basic standards are followed across the board to maintain a better safety atmosphere in all of our public and charter schools.
I hope through a few common sense changes that we can at least make our children’s learning environments a safer place so they can focus on what is truly important: growing into the next generation of loving, responsible, and productive adults. I will do whatever I can as a State Representative to make sure no community ever experiences the tragedy and loss that Santa Fe, Texas experienced. We sent thoughts and prayers; now it’s time for common sense solutions and leaders who care.
This has been weighing on my heart for quite some time. I am eager to see what ideas other Representatives and Senators are going to offer on this subject. Regardless of what exactly gets put into place, Texas needs to recognize the enormity of this problem and address it now. The cost is too high if we wait. The nation is once again looking at Texas to lead on this very important topic, and we must.
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God Bless you, your family and the Great State of Texas!
State Representative HD-16