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Former Austin ISD tutor charged with felony. Days earlier he was carrying a long gun near schools.

Three yellow school buses lined up next to a row of columns and a sidewalk
Becky Fogel
/
KUT
Austin ISD school buses line up to take Northeast High students to the Delco Activity Center after a shooting prompted a campus lockdown on Dec. 5.

A former tutor at an Austin Independent School District campus is facing a second-degree felony charge for indecency with a child by contact. The Austin ISD police department arrested Isaiah Xavier Smith on Friday. He is being held in the Travis County jail on $30,000 bail.

According to the district, Smith was a college readiness tutor between September and October at Akins High School in South Austin. Angel Wilson, the assistant superintendent of secondary schools, told families in a letter that Smith was fired immediately after a student reported the alleged incident on Oct. 25. Austin ISD police also began investigating the allegation.

“Your child’s safety is our greatest concern. We are doing everything we can to understand how this incident occurred to prevent situations like this in the future,” Wilson wrote.

Austin ISD also confirmed Smith is the same person who was recently seen openly carrying a long gun near Webb Middle School. He was seen near St. Francis School as well. While Texas law largely allows people to openly carry long guns in public, families raised concerns about Smith’s presence near campuses.

State Sen. Sarah Eckhardt (D-Austin) said she heard from constituents who were worried about the situation.

“People were calling into my office from both the private school and the public middle school with concerns about this individual who seemed to be coming regularly and timed to have maximum fear effect,” she said.

Eckhardt said it is frustrating that little can be done to stop someone from openly carrying a gun near campuses as long as they’re not within a school zone. The 1990 federal Gun-Free School Zones Act bars most people from knowingly possessing guns within 1,000 feet of a public, private or parochial school. There are exceptions, including law enforcement officers, who can carry firearms in a school zone.

“It is a sad state of affairs that the Texas Legislature has created a circumstance where school children regularly think through what would happen if a shooter came to their classroom,” she said.

Just last week, AISD put Northeast Early College High School on lockdown after a gunman wounded longtime district police officer Sgt. Val Barnes during a series of deadly shootings that spanned from Bexar County to Austin.

Eckhardt said lawmakers need to revisit measures that allow open carry and permitless carry in Texas. She referred to permitless carry, which allows people to carry a handgun without a license, as “lawless carry.”

“I think open carry and lawless carry were both legislative initiatives that have in large measure created this ability to terrorize a school simply by showing up, legally carrying your long gun,” she said. “That in itself is a terrorizing activity.”

Claudia Yañez, similar to Eckhardt, said it is unacceptable that the state Legislature has not enacted common-sense gun laws. She is the group lead for the Austin Chapter of Moms Demand Action, a grassroots network that advocates for gun violence prevention policies.

“This has to be shattering [students’] sense of safety and impacting their ability to learn at the end of the day,” she said.

New regulations are needed, said Yañez, because firearm injuries are the leading cause of death for children and adolescents in the U.S. A Texas Tribune analysis found the rate of gun deaths among teenagers has more than doubled in the last 10 years.

Yañez added that right now parents may feel powerless under current state law.

“What are we doing? Are we waiting for it to become a shooting? Are we waiting for there to be loss of life? It’s completely infuriating,” she said.

Eckhardt said one thing people can do if they’re concerned about someone carrying a gun near schools is report it to law enforcement, the school district and elected officials.

“Leaving it to law enforcement to handle it and handle it swiftly is definitely the way to go,” she said.

Bill Avera, the president of the Texas School District Police Chiefs’ Association, agreed. He said it can be difficult for police to respond to this type of incident if someone is not breaking the law, but that doesn't mean nothing can be done.

“But in the spirit of all that’s going on, it’s not out of the ordinary for school district police officers to make contact with people,” he said.

Avera, who is also the chief of police for Jacksonville ISD, said while school district departments are limited in what they can do if someone is not carrying a firearm on campus or within a school zone, there are options.

“There is nothing that precludes the school-based law enforcement from conducting an investigation to ensure that person does not have a nefarious intent [and] is not there for a reason that is inconsistent with law or with safety of all the persons involved,” he said.

Avera added it’s important for people to think about school safety as part of community safety.

“School safety is a shared responsibility and that’s what we tell people all across this state,” he said. “Most people understand in this day and age that school safety is very important and that we are going to be better safe than sorry.”

Becky Fogel is the education reporter at KUT. Got a tip? Email her at rfogel@kut.org. Follow her on Twitter @beckyfogel.
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