School Violence Hearings Begin at Texas Capitol

The Hearing by members of the Senate Select Committee on Violence in Schools and School Security began with a moment of silence.

There was also a pledge from committee chairman Larry Taylor.

"And yes, we do continue to pray, for those who lost family members and friends, we pray for those who are wounded both physically and mentally for their healing, but we are not just praying, we are taking action as evidence by this committee,” said the Republican from Friendswood.

The attack at Santa Fe High School brought about the call for the hearings. Ten were killed and 13 injured even though the campus had been recognized for its safety plan. Monday morning school architect Christopher Huckabee was asked if installing metal detectors should now be part of all safety plans.

"I think it’s important to say that it would not be a perfect science, because if I’m a student I can get a gun into a building fairly simply by setting my backpack by an exit door, I'll scan through the building and I walk down the hallway open the door and pull the back pack in,” said Huckabee. 

Possibility up to 75% of schools in Texas, according to Huckabee, need to be retrofitted with up-to-date security features. Things like controlled entrances which are being installed at campuses in Leander ISD and Georgetown ISD 

"Unfortunately there is not one solution, there is not a unique solution that we can wave a wand and be there, this is an evolving situation,” said Huckabee.

The committee also heard from TEA Commissioner Mike Morath. He testified that the agency does not have the authority regulate what type of security features local districts put into their schools. Legislation to change that is expected to be introduced during the next session. The committee learned that sometimes passing a law can cause a problem. San Antonio ISD Police Chief Joe Curiel testified that School Resource Officers cannot enforce administrative rules; like dress code violations. That brought about a discussion on how SRO's respond to kids wearing trench coats on hot days.

"So in a situation like that, would you pat him down,” asked State Senator Joan Huffman ( R ) Houston. 

“No,” replied Chief Curiel who went on to say, “I need more information, just because he showed up in a trench coat doesn't mean he is doing something wrong." 

A trench coat can be a red flag, explained Chief Curiel, which could prompt follow up questions and possible intervention. That kind of mental health strategy is the focus of the hearing when it continues Tuesday.

Committee member State Sen. John Whitmire ( D ) Houston made it clear he thought too much time is being spent on things other than mental health.

OK members, you want to talk about architecture and you want to talk about gun training, there in my judgment, in most people's judgment, is the first broken part, the most severe broken part in our system...I now we are going to talk about mental health another day, but here is a great witness and a great resource that he has done his job,  he apprehends, someone dressing abnormal, or even doing worse, he refers him as a mental health case, they come back Senator Schwarts (Schwertner) within a week probably in the classroom same environment and have not received any serious mental health evaluation or treatment  and we sit here and wonder why we are sitting here having this discussion,” said Senator Whitmire. 

As a preview for Tuesday; the committee heard that 25,000 school employees in Texas have taken part in a free program to help identify mental health situations. Senator Taylor said after the hearing Tuesday, two more may be scheduled in July.  Paying for any adjustment in school safety remains the big unknown. Most on the committee pointed out it can’t be done with a single federal or state grant.