Last week, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) proposed a new rule intended to increase school safety. TEA announced this sweeping new rule roughly five months after a gunman killed 19 students and two teachers at Robb Elementary in Uvalde.
In the wake of the Uvalde tragedy, Gov. Greg Abbott specifically charged TEA Commissioner Mike Morath with overhauling safety rules for public schools. Abbott pushed for these security changes in lieu of calling a special session to enact commonsense gun reforms like raising the minimum age to purchase an assault weapon or passing red flag laws.
The proposed rule would establish a number of new safety requirements. Under the rule, schools would be required to install panic alarms, two-way emergency radios, automatic locks on all exterior doors, and bulletproof glass in all ground floor windows. The rule would also require schools to conduct weekly maintenance checks of exterior door locks and twice-yearly maintenance checks of the rest of schools’ safety infrastructure.
A week before TEA announced the new rule, state leadership transferred $400 million from the Foundation School Program to fund school safety initiatives. In the next few weeks, TEA will send a grant application to districts so they can apply for funds to cover the cost of implementing the rule. Districts will receive grants based on their student enrollment, with the smallest districts receiving a minimum of $200,000.
Even with the minimum $200,000 grant, many school districts — especially small districts — worry that they will be unable to afford compliance with the new safety requirements and that a 2023 implementation date is unlikely to be achievable. In fact, many school districts have already considered enhancing their security in keeping with the security requirements to be imposed under the new rule, but determined that making the changes would be too expensive given their current budget constraints.
While these changes are intended to address many of the issues that contributed to the Uvalde tragedy, such as faulty radios and door locks, many advocates and parents of Uvalde victims say that these changes avoid the root issue: guns. Without addressing the ease of access to firearms in this state, it is unclear whether these changes will have any effect on preventing another tragedy.
Under a related rule recently proposed, school counselors would be required to spend at least 80% of their work time on counseling duties. State leadership has often pointed to mental health as the main cause for gun violence. This requirement has been in statute since last year, but the law has not been enforced by TEA. Even if the rule is properly enforced, most public school students will not have adequate access to counseling services. Recent analysis by the Houston Chronicle revealed that 98% of students attend districts that did not meet TEA’s own recommendation of one counselor per 250 students.