Seventy-eight Texas school districts either have failed to submit state-mandated safety plans in the event of a mass shooting or have filed ones that are too incomplete to be useful, Attorney General Greg Abbott said on Dec. 17.
His finding comes three days after Gov. Rick Perry ordered a statewide review to ensure Texas schools are prepared to handle attacks such as the one in Newtown, Conn., that left 26 people dead, including 20 children.
“There’s nothing we can do to bring back the loss of life of the school children in Connecticut,” Abbott said at a news conference. “There is, however, something we can do to make sure schoolchildren in Texas will not meet a similar fate.”
Abbott released a list of those failing to comply, which included Beaumont Independent School District. But many of the rest of the districts were small or very rural, or both.
Asked if $5.4 billion in cuts to public education and grant programs approved by the Texas Legislature last year might have made it more difficult for small districts to comply, Abbott noted: “I think the school in Connecticut was a smaller school.”
“It doesn’t matter if a school district is very small,” he said. “The danger their students face is very large.”
The state education code requires all of Texas’ 1,025 total school districts to submit safety audits that must be updated every three years and include plans on what to do in case of a school shooter or other catastrophes. The list of districts that have failed to comply was compiled by the Texas School Safety Center, which was created in 1999 in the aftermath of the Columbine shootings in Colorado and promotes school safety.
Abbott said he issued a letter to the districts in violation explaining “the absolute necessity” to comply immediately.
The attorney general said he reviewed state law and had not found any mechanism whereby districts that fail to produce adequate safety plans could face sanctions, though he intends to keep looking. But he also said that he hoped simply calling attention to the issue would prompt those districts to act.
“As we have all observed, coming up with a plan in the midst of a shooting incident is a recipe for complete disaster,” Abbott said. “The only way these schools can do everything possible to try to achieve the highest level of safety for their students is to have a detailed plan in place, and then practice that plan in the event that a shooter does come on campus.”
Perry asked Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams to ensure that all Texas schools are prepared to execute plans to secure the safety of students and staff.
In a letter to school districts statewide, Williams said Texas law requires them to have emergency plans that “address mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery,” while including emergency-response training for district employees, mandatory school drills and exercises on how to respond to an emergency, and bolstering coordination with law enforcement and other first responders.
At his news conference, Abbot was asked if teachers or other school personnel should be permitted to carry guns, and he noted that some districts around the state – like Harrold Independent School District in North Texas – already allow that. But, he added, that would be a matter for the state Legislature when it reconvenes Jan. 8.
“You can be assured that, in the aftermath of what happened in Connecticut, these legislators care dearly about the lives of students at their schools,” Abbott said, “and they will evaluate all possible measures that are necessary to protect those lives.”