Following the announcement by Gov. Greg Abbott of plans to prevent future school shootings, area school districts said many of the suggestions are already in place. Abbot laid out the 40-page plan on new recommended safety updates during a news conference in Dallas Wednesday morning.
Among the recommended strategies and plans outlined by Abbott are increased spending on school resource officers and the school marshal program, mental heath services and monitoring and a tightening to Texas gun storage laws, among other initiatives.
“I was very encouraged by what I heard and read,” Denison Independent School District Superintendent Henry Scott said Wednesday afternoon. “In fact, we are already doing most of that already.”
The move comes just two weeks after ten people were killed and 14 others injured in a school shooting at Santa Fe High School. Scott said security has become a renewed focus for schools across the country following Santa Fe and another shooting in Parkland, Florida earlier this year that claimed the lives of 17 students and teachers.
“I think since Florida happened, every school has stepped up their security,” he said.
One of the programs highlighted in Abbott’s conference was the Telemedicine Wellness, Intervention, Triage and Referral Project hosted by the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center. The program focuses on identifying students in middle and high school who are at risk of committing school violence before an incident occurs.
Scott said the school district has already implemented part of this program in the past, but plans to meet with university officials in the coming days regarding adding the mental health component of the program.
If a student is identified as a potential threat, Scott said counselors would be brought in to provide help to the student. If the student were to present a direct threat, other options, including the use of alternative school, could be used to put the student in a more secured environment. However, Scott noted that strong evidence would be needed to remove a student from the school system.
Sherman ISD officials also said many of these policies and practices are already in place within the district. Emily Parks, director of communications for the district, put particular focus on the work of school counselors who work to identify potential threats before they become an issue.
“We are working with our counselors to provide specific training on how we can identify these situations before hand,” she said.
Other potential options once a student is identified would be to partner with the police department and have officers speak with the parents of the student, Scott said.
“It isn’t just a school thing but involves the whole community and police department,” he said.
Scott said that the district currently spends about $200,000 annually for its resource offices. This includes two full-time positions, as well as two off-duty officers who patrol the district’s campuses.
“We have proudly built a strong relationship with law enforcement agencies in our community,” Parks said, “especially the Sherman Police and Fire Departments, and employ uniformed police officers at each of our secondary schools.” She said the district regularly has between one and three officers on duty.
With the coming of the summer break for many students and teachers, Scott said the district plans to update some of its security features in time for the new school year. Among these are secured entry systems, which check the background and identification of individuals attempting to enter a school, security camera equipment and other safety features throughout area campuses. These upgrades will include a new “LobbyGuard” background check system, Scott said.
On the topic of school marshals, Parks said the district is currently discussing a similar system she described as the Guardian Plan. While both plans outline criteria that would allow for qualified faculty and staff to carry a firearm on campus as a security measure, Parks said Guardian allows the district more flexibility in setting its own guidelines.
Recently, the district announced plans to allow honorably discharged peace officers within the district to carry firearms.
“Especially with the possibility of funding for a school marshal program, that does change the conversation,” Parks said.
With all these safety procedure in place, Scott ultimately said the biggest asset in preventing the potential for an active shooter situation is the school students themselves. In many previous cases, Scott said there were red flags before the shooting that should have been noticed.
“Our best source is students and having good communication between them and administration, counselors and teachers,” he said.