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School Safety Bill Addressing Texas Students' Mental Health Awaits Governor's Approval

Gabriel C. Pérez

A bill that aims to prevent violence in Texas schools – one of Greg Abbott's legislative priorities – is on the governor's desk.

Senate Bill 11would require schools to teach lessons on mental health, substance abuse, coping mechanisms and suicide prevention. The bill is a compromise of House and Senate efforts to keep schools safe after 10 people were killed in a shooting last year at Santa Fe High School.  

SB 11 requires school districts and charter schools to develop an emergency operations plan to prevent a violent incident, as well as a plan for response if an incident occurs. The bill mandates districts train all employees, including substitute teachers, on what to do if there is a violent incident at a school. It also says each classroom should have access to a phone to call for help.

"SB 11 requires each district to form a school safety and security team with representation from local law enforcement, the office of emergency management, parents, school police, the school board, superintendent and classroom teachers," state Rep. Greg Bonnen, R-Friendswood, the House bill’s author, said at the Capitol last week.

These "threat-assessment teams" will monitor student behavior. When a student is accused of being violent, threatening someone (or themselves), hurting someone or bullying, the team will evaluate the student's motivation and try to address it through social-emotional interventions.

"They can engage with that person to simply learn: Is this student having a bad day? Are they making a bad joke?" Bonnen said. "Or is there something that is more serious and underlining that would ... require attention?"

The hope is to intervene before a student hurt others or themselves. These teams of educators would be trained by the Texas School Safety Center at Texas State or other organizations that offer similar training.

After the school shooting in Santa Fe, Abbott held roundtable discussions on school safety and released a plan. He flagged the issue as one of his priorities at the beginning of the legislative session.

Claire McInerny is a former education reporter for KUT.
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