The Texas School Safety Center plans to begin randomly inspecting school buildings this September, its leaders say, with a goal of inspecting 100% of school districts and 75% of campuses statewide by the end of the school year.
The new “random intruder detection checks” are part of a policy issued by Gov. Greg Abbott to ensure school buildings are properly secured after the Uvalde shooting spree in May that killed 21 and injured 17.
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“Staff should contact the campus to find weak points and how quickly they can enter buildings without being stopped,” he wrote in a letter to the school security center, which raised immediate concerns among education advocates about how the audits were working arise in practice.
At a quarterly meeting last month, Kathy Martinez-Prather, the center’s executive director, told the School Safety Committee, a group of public safety, government and education officials appointed by the governor, that the inspectors were not aware of a “simulation intruder.” would conduct assessments.”
“[It will be like] You and I go out there just like a normal parent would and make sure the school districts keep outside threats out,” she said.
Martinez-Prather also told the board that the center will notify local law enforcement and central administration if it plans to audit a campus, but said the school campus will not know the audit is taking place.
After Abbott sent the letter urging the center to conduct spot checks, education advocates and lawmakers expressed concern about unregistered individuals trying to find their way into a school building.
Clay Robison, a spokesman for the Texas State Teachers Association, questioned whether a person who conducts unannounced practice puts themselves at risk of being attacked on campus by someone who sees them as a real threat, especially on campus, where school employees or others are permitted to carry guns on campus.
However, Martinez-Prather said that school districts conducted these types of audits before they applied the guidelines developed by the safety center and that “in all our years, we’ve never had a situation.”
However, some education advocates remained unconvinced.
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“There are many ways to ensure safety procedures are followed that are less intrusive and disruptive,” Portia Bosse, director of public affairs at TSTA, said Thursday. “This is just a continued distraction from the real failure of Uvalde and the real need for gun control in Texas.”
State Assemblyman Diego Bernal, D-San Antonio, initially expressed concern about the idea of ”advising adult males to show up unannounced in schools and to try as hard as possible to find a way in.”
“I don’t think anyone disagrees with doing our best to make schools safer, but context is important,” he said Thursday.
Bernal said if the audits make someone feel like they’re in an active shooter situation, they will add to the fear and concern that already exists among students and teachers “and reaffirm that Texas is ready to do anything — including ours.” Scaring children before it even touches the mildest gun control measures.”
Shannon Holmes, executive director of the Association of Texas Professional Educators, continued to express concerns that local campuses would not know the audits were taking place.
“It’s a recipe for disaster if there isn’t coordination between the local campus or ISD and whoever is administering the exam,” Holmes said.
During the last legislative session, lawmakers passed legislation that bans school districts from conducting active shooter drills that simulate a shooting incident and directs them to take steps to ensure a drill is not overly traumatic to students. A spokesman for the school security center said the audits are “separate from this and focused on testing access control measures”.
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Martinez-Prather told The Texas Tribune the center plans to suspend its training while it develops its own assessments. She said the state has already approved $7 million to hire seven contract workers who will train the center to administer these exams across the state. The center also hopes to test the assessment process before the start of the school year. In a letter to school districts, the Safety Center said schools will have an opportunity to fix any issues the audit discovers.
In addition to the random safety audits, Abbott asked the center to conduct school safety reviews of all Texas public schools.
He directed the center to notify each school district that they must meet this summer to review their emergency response plans, including each district’s active threat plan, to ensure all staff and backup personnel are trained. Districts must also evaluate building access points by September 1, including protocols for individual access points, locked classroom door policies, visitor check-in rules, the effectiveness of exterior door locks, and more. The center will present the results to the governor by September 1st October.
In 2019, state legislatures passed a package of school safety laws, including one that gave the School Safety Center authority to review school districts’ contingency plans.
Under this law, if a school district fails to satisfactorily present an emergency operations plan, it must notify the community at a public meeting. If she doesn’t hold such a meeting, the Texas Education Agency can take over the school’s governance, according to Abbott’s letter. At last month’s school safety center board meeting, Martinez-Prather said a state school district must hold a public meeting to alert the community that it does not have a satisfactory plan. She refused to give the name of the district.
The push to ensure the outside doors are properly locked comes in response to criticism that the Robb Elementary shooter was able to enter through a back door with an automatic lock, which authorities ultimately said failed.
“The state must not only write words on paper and ensure that the laws are obeyed; he must also ensure that a culture of constant vigilance is ingrained on every campus and in every school district employee across the state,” he said in his June 1 letter.
Disclosure: The Texas State Teachers Association has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization funded in part by donations from members, foundations, and corporate sponsors. Financial backers play no part in the Tribune’s journalism. A complete list can be found here.
The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that educates and collaborates with Texans on public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.
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https://abc13.com/uvalde-school-shooting-aftermath-texas-safety-random-intruder-detection-audits-test-for-at-lower-schools/12008806/ Uvalde school shooting: Texas security officials to begin ‘random intruder detection audits’ at schools in September