bUrIaLS bEGIN More coverage inside ■ Abbott says 78 Texas school districts lack safety plans ,
Noah Pozner Both boys were killed during Friday’s shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Thirty-eight Texas school districts did not submit required safety audits that could help prevent gun massacres like the one in Connecticut, and another 40 did not fully comply with state safety rules, Attorney General Greg Abbott said Monday.
Coupland was the only Central Texas district on Abbott’s list. Superintendent Gary Chandler could not be reached for comment.
Most of the districts on the list are small, though some larger districts made the list, including Beaumont.
Abbott said he was shocked by the number of Texas’ 1,025 school districts out of compliance and demanded that all districts quickly comply with state law requiring public school districts to adopt a “multihazard emergency operations plan,” and train employees, conduct drills and coordinate with law enforcement.
“Every day they don’t have a plan they are putting their students at great risk,” Abbott said.
Abbott is on the board of the Texas School Safety Center that was created to help school districts with security after Colorado’s Columbine High School massacre in 1999 left 13 people dead. In addition to adopting security plans, districts must perform a security audit every three years to ensure the plan is up to date and functional.
“While we are saddened by the tragedy in Newtown, we can’t let another second tick by without getting school districts prepared to encounter the same type of situation in our state,” Abbott said.
Noting that Newtown, Conn., was a small district, Abbott said it’s not just larger, urban districts in Texas that face a possible threat from a shooter. It was not clear whether Newtown had a security plan or if it was followed.
But Abbott said “seconds count” during such an attack, and having a safety plan in place can mean that students and staff will know what to do in an emergency, potentially saving lives.
Abbott sent a letter to all 78 districts Monday demanding they immediately comply with the safety law, which contains no fines or penalties for noncompliance. If districts continue to drag their feet, Abbott said, he might consider court action.
Abbott said his office is reviewing possible changes in state law for lawmakers to consider when they convene in January. Under consideration are penalties for districts that refuse to enact safety plans, along with new security measures at schools.
Abbott said some school districts allow teachers to carry guns; he did not identify them. The Texas Tribune reported Monday that the Harrold school district, a district of fewer than 100 students near the Oklahoma border, has a policy that allows teachers to carry concealed handguns with a state permit, additional training and local school board approval.
Monday’s developments came as officials with Texas PTA, a leading parent-teachers group, urged parents and teachers to question local school administrators about their school’s safety plans in the aftermath of the Connecticut tragedy.
“As parents, community leaders and taxpayers, we all have a right and responsibility to ensure all that can be done is being done when it comes to safety,” the group said in a statement.
Although the state safety audits generally are not public, the law contains provisions allowing the public to verify whether schools are in compliance.
Several area school districts have begun reviewing their safety policies, as ordered Monday by Texas Education Agency Commissioner Michael Williams.
In a letter to parents, San Marcos Superintendent Mark Eads said officials have reviewed emergency plans. “Our first and foremost priority is the safety of our community’s children, our most precious resource,” he said.