By Longview News-Journal
As Gov. Greg Abbott was conducting roundtable discussions aimed at finding ways to increase security for students in Texas schools, the News-Journal began convening a series of discussions to hear what East Texans had to say about the subject.
In Austin, the governor met with student survivors, educators, safety experts and lawmakers, seeking their ideas on how to begin making our schools safer.
Here, the newspaper brought together groups of students, parents, educators and law enforcers and asked them, in part, about the realities they see, the fears they face and the changes they hope to see.
We were gratified, then, that the plan proposed by the governor after his meetings addressed many of the concerns and hopes we heard at the meetings here.
Broadly, Abbott’s proposals fall into categories including making schools safer, preventing threats in advance and enhancing firearms safety. The list includes many actions that have long been discussed as necessary to combat school violence.
On gun access, Abbott’s proposal recommends lawmakers adopt a “red flag” law that would more easily allow the removal of guns from a potentially dangerous person after a legal process.
It recommends strengthening our state’s firearm storage law aimed at keeping guns out of the hands of children younger than 18, and making it a violation when a child gains access to a gun, even if it is not loaded.
A primary focus is to increase the number of law enforcement officers on campuses, and train educators who are willing to serve as armed school marshals.
Arming teachers is not something a lot of districts care to do, and we appreciate that. We are not fans of the idea, either. But smaller districts, those farther from a law enforcement presence or that cannot have police on every campus, should also have options.
The safety plan recommends making school buildings less structurally vulnerable, using social media and better reporting to identify possible threats, and providing a known mental health program that identifies and provides help for students at risk of harming others.
Those are all common-sense ideas, and that is encouraging.
More encouraging is that some of our East Texas districts and law enforcement agencies already have taken some of the recommended actions. But local school leaders point out they could do more, and would like to, but lack the necessary financial resources. That means state lawmakers will have to prove they care about students by providing adequate funding.
While Abbott’s pledge of $100 million in immediate funding may sound like a lot, with more than 1,000 school districts and about 8,800 campuses, that amounts to only about $11,400 per school.
That will not go very far when attempting to better secure buildings that are already well past their useful lives, or when hiring trained personnel.
Even calls to arm teachers come with a price tag attached, with the state promising to pay for very necessary training and some leaders calling for bonuses and stipends for educators who carry weapons in the classroom.
We do not know which of Abbott’s proposals will work, or even which are likely to come to fruition. But we know without question that doing nothing is not an option.
In one of our meetings, a parent suggested that what students want to see is that grown-ups are trying something, and Abbott’s plan can lead us in that direction. Unfortunately, too many in our nation and state for too long have taken the exact opposite approach: Try nothing and expect the outcome will somehow change.
It is past time to stop pretending anything will change simply through our hopes and prayers. Action is required to safeguard our schools. If that costs money, lawmakers have a job to do in providing the necessary funds. Local law enforcers also have a job to do, in quickly becoming more open and communicative than they have been about what parents, students and educators should do to be safe. Educators also have an important job in working to take all that and make our campuses safer.
We know that is a tall order but hope to see the fruitful discussion begun by Abbott continue this summer so that by the time students return to campuses this fall, they are safer than they were when they left for summer break.
Let’s get to work.