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Home | Tag Archives: texas school shootings

Tag Archives: texas school shootings

After high school shooting, Texas campuses could soon have more armed marshals

In the first legislative session after a deadly shooting at Santa Fe High School that left 10 dead and 13 others wounded, the Texas Senate on Monday advanced a bill that would abolish the limit on how many trained school employees — known as school marshals — can carry guns on campus.

Under the marshal program, school personnel whose identities are kept secret from all but a few local officials, are trained to act as armed peace officers in the absence of law enforcement. Currently, schools that participate in the program can only designate one marshal per 200 student or one marshal per building.

“School districts need to be able to tailor the school marshal program for their unique needs,” State Sen. Brandon Creighton, a Conroe Republican who authored Senate Bill 244, said about the legislation last week. “SB 244 removes those limitations in statute on the school marshal program to accommodate the unique needs of districts across the state.

“Each individual district would be able to make those choices on what’s best for them.”

But advocacy groups such as Moms Demand Action immediately decried the legislation.

“I’m very concerned for the safety of our schoolchildren as lawmakers continue to pass bills that would aggressively increase how many of our children’s teachers are armed,” Hilary Whitfield, a volunteer leader with the Texas chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, said in a statement. “We all want to keep our schools safer, but adding guns to the problem is not the solution.”

The bill passed 20 to 10, with only Democrats opposed. But State Sens. Royce West, D-Dallas, and Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, both sided with the upper chambers’ Republicans and voted in favor of the measure. The bill can now be sent to the Texas House for debate.

Former state Rep. Jason Villalba, a Dallas-area Republican who authored the bill that created the Texas school marshal program, told The Texas Tribune that the cap on how many marshals can be on each campus was proposed by police groups that helped to create the legislation.

“The risk of having five officers in a single building and police coming to the scene is you begin to lose track of the good guys versus the bad guys,” he said. “The police were saying, ‘If we go to a scene and there are four non-uniformed individuals carrying guns and one bad guy, it’s very difficult for us to determine at the time in the heat of that moment the good guy from the bad guy.’”

“I’d be very careful,” about that proposal, Villalba said. “When you have multiple [marshals] in a single building, that could create some risks that are difficult.”

Villalba emphasized that he wasn’t against Creighton’s bill since he hadn’t read its full text, but said, “there’s a reason we had that number.”

Read related Tribune coverage

Author: ALEX SAMUELS – The Texas Tribune

The 86th Legislature runs from Jan. 8 to May 27. From the state budget to health care to education policy — and the politics behind it all — we focus on what Texans need to know about the biennial legislative session.

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Police Interventions Spike in Texas Schools After Shootings in Santa Fe and Parkland

Police officers have long had a presence in public schools. But since the deadly school shootings in Santa Fe and Parkland, Florida, more Texas school children have found themselves facing police for actions the authors of a new study view as kids just being kids.

The study, published Tuesday by advocacy group Texas Appleseed, reported a dramatic spike in the number of students referred to law enforcement for threatening to use violence against students and staff. Its authors argue that some of the threats are just childish behavior, such as pretending to shoot with finger guns, or are the result of a mental disability. The study’s authors say arrests and other police interventions can be damaging to young children’s mental health and show a return to zero-tolerance policies they say gloss over the nuances of school violence.

After the shooting in Parkland, the number of students referred to Texas law enforcement for “terroristic threats” — such as threatening a school with violence or acting violently against staff — increased by 156 percent, and the number of students referred for “exhibition of a firearm” — anything from possessing a gun to threatening to shoot someone — increased by 600 percent. The greatest increase occurred among students aged 10 to 13, who saw a 762 percent increase in referrals for exhibition of a firearm.

The study was released a day before the Texas Senate’s Select Committee on Violence in Schools and School Security is set to to discuss the role of mental health in preventing school shootings.

After the shootings, Texas lawmakers were tasked with looking into ways to prevent school gun violence, with Gov. Greg Abbott releasing a series of recommendations on the topic in May. Among his recommendations was a return to zero-tolerance policies that remove students from classrooms for any threatening behavior.

The authors of the Texas Appleseed study argue that in response to a push to identify risks early, educators have referred their students to law enforcement in instances that were not truly threatening.

Morgan Craven, one of the authors of the study, said the uptick in referrals is the result of faculty and staff not having the resources to discern between threatening situations that require police intervention and those that don’t, prompting them to call police in cases that may otherwise be handled by faculty themselves.

“It reflects a culture where people are nervous and don’t know what to do,” Craven said.

Both Abbott and the study recommend teachers undergo threat-assessment training to be able to differentiate the kinds of incidents, and the study further calls for the state to fund some of the training.

Craven is slated to discuss the findings of the study at Wednesday’s Senate committee hearing. Though committee members in past meetings have focused more on protective measures — including possibly arming teachers with rifles in some rural districts — they have emphasized the importance of preventive measures in dealing with school violence.

Matthew Novosad, a police officer in La Porte and former vice president of the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas, said he has noticed an increase in referrals to law enforcement since the shooting in Parkland. He said building relationships with students and other community members is critical in ensuring that students do not have traumatic experiences when police get involved.

Novosad said police can redirect students to the appropriate resources rather than simply locking them up and that it’s ultimately the local district attorney’s role to determine whether to pursue charges against a student on a case-by-case basis.

He said young children and students with mental disabilities may act in ways that technically classify as threats.

“Are they just young, immature kids who don’t really know what to do what they’re doing? Absolutely,” Novosad said. “We all played cops and robbers as a kids.”

But Craven said some district attorneys have been over-responding to otherwise innocuous cases. An 11-year-old autistic child in Brazoria County was arrested last fall after kicking and biting teachers during a meltdown in class — behavior state law classifies as a “terroristic threat.” Though school officials have sent letters requesting charges against the child be dropped, Brazoria County District Attorney Jeri Yenne’s office has since continued to pursued the case, causing considerable financial strain on the family, said Shiloh Carter, a lawyer with Disability Rights Texas advising the family on the case.

Carter said it’s the first time she’s seen a district attorney pursue a case after school district officials asked to drop the charges, and she attributes the decision to the same drive that led to the spike in referrals to law enforcement after the Parkland shooting. When contacted by The Texas Tribune, Yenne said she can’t discuss or confirm cases about an 11-year-old child.

The study argues that unnecessary police involvement at schools can be prevented by better engagement between staff and students and urges the state to fund training for teachers. It quotes guidelines written by the U.S. Department of Education and the Secret Service, saying “the central question in a threat assessment inquiry or investigation is whether a student poses a threat, not whether the student has made a threat.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the title of Matthew Novosad.

Texas Appleseed has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

Author: MATTHEW CHOI –  The Texas Tribune

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