Gov. Greg Abbott on Thursday signed several bills addressing the recent rise in school shootings. While much of the attention on this legislation has been directed toward provisions allowing school teachers and staff to carry firearms, perhaps the most promising features are calls for better screening and treatment for mental health issues on school campuses.
Less than a year after eight students and two teachers were killed at Santa Fe High School near Houston, the Texas Legislature passed several bills relating to campus security. Abbott signed three of them Thursday.
Senate Bill 11, co-sponsored by Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville, seeks to improve emergency preparedness and response. In addition to providing for improved safety hardware such as metal detectors, reinforced doors and alarm systems, it also calls for training to better identify possible threats. Schools can now allow teachers and other personnel to carry firearms, provided they complete police-type courses that include weapons proficiency and quick-response active shooter training.
SB11 also seeks to improve strategies for suicide prevention, conflict resolution and discipline management, as well as addressing the needs of students with disabilities, educational or language disadvantages and other special needs.
Public and charter school districts are to report periodically to the state education commissioner on the programs they implement and issues they encounter.
House Bill 18 increases mental health training for teachers, counselors and other educators to better identify and address students who might show a need for mental health services. It creates school-based mental health centers and calls for more specially trained mental health professionals on campus.
Lucio and Judith Zaffirini of Laredo supported the bill in the Senate and Reps. Terry Canales of Edinburg, Alex Dominguez of Brownsville and Armando Martinez of Weslaco co-sponsored it in the House.
A third bill signed Thursday allows schools to place as many marshals as they deem necessary to better ensure campus safety.
Arming school staff will always be subject to debate. Determining the need for weapons usually means a volatile situation already is in progress, and many people fear that adding more people with firearms could only make unnecessary escalation and violence more likely.
Improving mental health services, on the other hand, could help prevent violence by identifying and counseling students who have shown behavioral changes, or about whom other students have expressed concerns. If students dealing with emotional or mental issues can receive treatment, or those who have made threats or shown violent tendencies identified before the take action, school staff might never have to put their firearms training and skills to the test.
Preventing violent situations is always better than engaging armed, unstable intruders. The new state laws’ provisions that address mental and situational threats offer more promise, and warrant support, beyond those that enable more guns on campus.