6 school safety bills filed, address security failure in Uvalde

(The Center Square) – State Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, filed six school safety bills on Thursday, referring to them as “Safety Six.” The bills, he says, will address a number of problems…

(The Center Square) – State Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, filed six school safety bills on Thursday, referring to them as “Safety Six.” The bills, he says, will address a number of problems in the public school system highlighted by failures identified at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde and ongoing problems in Houston area schools.

The bills would address attendance policies and truancy data, student discipline records, and require law enforcement officials to review schools multi-hazard emergency operations plans. They also would create a school marshal and guardian training program and an approved vendors list for school safety products.

Among the failures identified in a House Investigative Committee report on the Robb Elementary shooting last year were the school’s failure to address truancy, chronic absenteeism, behavioral issues and records about them in the shooter’s file, as well as not having a school safety plan in place.

“The Robb Elementary School shooter had hundreds of unexcused absences before being involuntary withdrawn from his school district,” Bettencourt said. Houston area school districts, he also points out, reported more than 130,000 truancy cases during the 2021-2022 school year.

Since truancy policies are handled differently by school district, the bill would create a uniform system for all districts to follow statewide. SB 1630 would require all schools to adopt an attendance policy to address truancy, including requiring notifications being sent to parents and guardians for excused or unexcused absences via email, text or mail. After a student fails to attend school for a certain period of time, the bill would require the student’s parents or guardians to meet with a school administrator. If the parent or guardian fails to attend the meeting, the bill would require a school attendance officer to visit the student’s home, investigate the student’s behavior and living conditions, and report the findings to the school and/or district.

The bill also would establish guidelines to identify students in need of support services that could address the root cause of attendance failures.

SB 1888 would require the Texas Education Agency to gather and make available student truancy and chronic absenteeism data both at the school and school district level every year.

SB 1631 would require a student’s disciplinary record or any threat assessment involving their behavior to travel with them throughout their academic journey, including when they transfer schools.

“All schools need support systems that address unexcused absences faster and before students get so far behind, they can’t catch up,” Bettencourt said in a news release. The bills, he says, would create a system to help the state identify “which schools need the most resources.”

SB 1632 and SB 1635 govern a required school safety plan process. SB 1632 allows schools and school districts devising their multi-hazard emergency operations plans to first request feedback from the Texas School Safety Center. Once their plans are approved by the center, the bill would require them to submit their plans to their local law enforcement agency to receive feedback.

SB 1635 would require the center to establish and maintain a list of vendors approved for school safety related products.

SB 1633 would establish a grant program that would allocate $3,000 to individual school campuses to create a school marshal and guardian program.

Bettencourt is the second longest standing member on the Senate Committee on Education and has served on several education-related committees during his tenure.