In the wake of the deadliest school shooting in state history, the Texas Education Agency plans to test hundreds of thousands of school building exterior doors for proper latching before the start of the next school year .
TEA Commissioner Mike Morath told Texas senators on Tuesday that the agency would review the external entry points of every school in Texas, about 340,000 doors. It will assess school facilities to determine what repairs might be needed to make campuses safer. There will also be a review of each district’s safety protocols and meetings between state officials and each district’s school safety committee.
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Morath’s comments came during a Texas Senate committee hearing into the shooting at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, in which a gunman killed 19 children and two teachers. At the same hearing, Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw said law enforcement’s response to the shooting was a “dismal failure” and police could have arrested the shooter three minutes later. His arrival. McCraw also told lawmakers that the teacher who taught in the joint classrooms where the shooting took place reported 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 locked the door and the automatic lock broke.
There are more than 1,200 school districts in Texas and more than 3,000 campuses, but Morath promised lawmakers on Tuesday that his agency’s plans to review gates and security plans would be completed this summer.
In 2019, the Legislature passed Senate Bill 11, which directs the Texas School Safety Center to ensure school districts have adequate emergency plans. The agency can ask the TEA to act as a curator to make sure plans are up to standard and school districts are in compliance, Morath said.
Morath said the TEA has the power to make rules on things like security drills and threat drills. The agency will return to lawmakers once it has a dollar figure for the cost of hardware upgrades, he said.
“We are moving very quickly on this file,” he said.
In the weeks following the Uvalde tragedy, questions swirled around police actions and whether lives could have been saved had officers confronted the barricaded gunman sooner. Authorities have shared conflicting information about who was responsible, who confronted the shooter, and when. A debate over whether locked classroom doors could be broken into gave way to the discovery that they may never have been locked at all.
Morath spent much of his time on Tuesday talking about SB 11 and what it has done to “strengthen” schools, as well as the powers it grants to it and the security center. Governor Greg Abbott and other Republicans have touted the bill. But, the law may have failed.
Schools haven’t received enough state money to make the kinds of physical improvements that lawmakers are publicly touting. Few school employees signed up to bring guns to work. And many school districts either don’t have a plan to respond to an active shooting or have produced insufficient ones.
Experts said there was no evidence that tighter security in schools had prevented any violence. Plus, they said, it can be harmful to children, especially children of color.
Morath also gave more information on the 18-year-old shooter. He began to be chronically absent in sixth grade, and in his final year at Uvalde Secondary School, he failed all grades except web design. Bettencourt asked if someone on the school’s threat assessment team should have noticed chronic truancy and truancy as a red flag.
In Texas, it is mandatory 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 continued absenteeism, I wouldn’t call that a threat assessment,” Morath said. “The security and support team should notice this and then begin the response process.”
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune, a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans about state politics and politics.