Texas Attorney General Launches School Safety Initiative
Urging school districts to implement new procedures "to help prevent a Columbine or Virginia Tech-style shooting in Texas" and calling for new safety measures designed to protect students from any form of school violence, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott on Tuesday introduced a new safety tool kit that his office is providing to all Texas public schools. The kit includes an interactive DVD and CD-Rom called "School Safety: Saving Lives When Seconds Count," a safety guide, and other resources.
"Texas schools must be safe and secure," Abbott said. "This school safety initiative teaches educators how to prevent school shootings--and how to react if disaster strikes. During a school shooting, panic can overwhelm students and teachers. The difference between life and death can depend on how they respond in the seconds before and after an incident. Our school safety toolkit outlines steps that schools can take to secure students and save lives."
Abbott was joined by Houston ISD Police Chief Charlie Wiley in unveiling the new training tools to assist educators and law enforcement in improving campus safety. Abbott recommended that Texas school districts adopt the following safety measures:
- Develop, implement, and annually practice campus emergency plans. Schools must develop and implement school emergency plans and update their existing plans. Schools should team up with law enforcement to practice school safety drills once a year, rather than once every three years as current law requires.
- Establish a Campus Crime Stoppers or similar anonymous incident reporting program. According to research by the U.S. Secret Service, most school violence incidents were foreshadowed by warning signs that went unreported to authorities and school personnel. Schools must educate teens that it is "Cool to Come Forward."
- Encourage information-sharing between law enforcement, juvenile justice officials, and school authorities. Strict interpretations of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) have hampered information-sharing between schools and law enforcement during "imminent danger" situations. Information-sharing between school districts and law enforcement must prioritize public safety over personal privacy concerns.
Beginning in September 2008, Texas school districts must report the results of their first campus security audits to the Texas School Safety Center, which was created in 1999 in the aftermath of the Columbine tragedy. Texas law requires schools to conduct these safety audits every three years and practice their campus emergency management plans. Abbott, whose office serves on the center's board, encouraged all school districts to team up with law enforcement to annually practice campus safety procedures: "Having a plan is important, but executing that plan under stress--when seconds count--is critical to saving lives," he said.
Recognizing that students are critical to school safety, the office of the attorney general also developed and launched the Texas Teen Page (click on the "TXT" icon on the OAG's main Web site at www.oag.state.tx.us). This interactive online community encourages Texas teens to make good choices, including coming forward to report suspicious behavior on campus. The page also offers students helpful information, including how to make wise financial decisions, recognize summer job scams, and spot fraudulent credit card or scholarship offers.