bUrI­aLS bE­GIN More cov­er­age in­side ■ Ab­bott says 78 Texas school dis­tricts lack safety plans ,

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Mike­ward mward@states­man.com Con­tact Mike Ward at 474-2791. Twit­ter: @mikestates­man

Jack Pinto

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.

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