TEXAS (CBSNewsTexas.com) - As Texas schools face new security and safety requirements, a former U.S. Secret Service agent has been put in charge of making sure the state's more than 8,000 campuses are in compliance.
In the days after the shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Governor Greg Abbott called on the state's education department to create a new position, Chief of School Safety and Security.
The new position would ensure schools are implementing safety policies passed by the legislature and advise schools on best practices to safeguard against school shootings.
Last fall, Abbott chose John P. Scott, a man with two decades of experience in the U.S. Secret Service, for the job.
"I spent my entire adult life protecting the most powerful people. Now I take those skills and transition in and now I get to protect the most important people, which is our kids and our future," said Scott, who provided security detail for Vice Presidents Dick Cheney and Joe Biden during his tenure as a U.S. Secret Service agent.
Scott, in one of his first interviews since taking the position last October, told the CBS News Texas I-Team he has spent the past 10 months visiting schools across the state. He said the level of security at Texas schools is far above where he thought it would be but adds improvements can be made.
"There is never a finish line when it comes to security," Scott said.
One of Scott's first jobs as Chief of School Safety and Security is to ensure every district in the state has an active shooter plan.
In a 2020 audit of more than 1,000 Texas school districts, the Texas School Safety Center found 61% of districts did not have an active shooter policy in place and more than 80% did not have a policy that followed best practices.
"The active shooter plans have come a long way since then," Scott said. "The Texas School Safety Center as well as law enforcement have come a long way in training superintendents how to develop those."
If some Texans remain skeptical about school safety plans, there's good reason.
In 2019, Texas lawmakers required schools to strengthen emergency plans but not all schools did.
In an interview last year, Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner Mike Morath admitted to the CBS News Investigative team that the state often did not have the resources to ensure schools were in compliance.
Scott said that's changing. No longer will the state rely on schools to "self-police."
This past school year, the state conducted more than 7,200 unannounced intruder audits on Texas campuses. In cases where inspectors found an open or unlocked door, schools were required to take corrective action to ensure it didn't happen again.
Scott also plans to hire 20 highly trained security experts who will run in-depth risk assessments on school campuses. Those assessments will start later this year with the goal of assessing every school once every four years.
"We have professionalized school security in the state of Texas," Scott said.
This year Texas schools are also required to have an armed officer on every campus. Due to financial and workforce constraints, many school districts said this new requirement will be hard to meet.
Even with its own police force, Dallas ISD Superintendent Stephanie Elizalde said her district would need to hire an additional 167 officers to ensure there's one at every school. With a shortage of police officers, she said that will not be possible by the September 1st deadline.
Scott said he is aware of the challenges schools face and is working with districts on alternative plans.
The new state law does provide a "good clause exception" for districts that cannot meet the new standard of an armed officer on every campus.
Scott said districts can use alternative plans, such as the Marshal or Guardian program where hand-picked teachers and staff members are armed and act as the first line of defense in lieu of a police officer.
Superintendent Elizalde said those programs will not be used in DISD.
At the time of the Uvalde school shooting, according to data provided by the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement (TCLOE), 62 Texas school districts were enrolled in the Marshal program. At the start of this school year, the program had grown to 78 districts.
"School exists to educate children and keep them safe," Scott said. "If we get that educate children and keep them safe – all in one sentence - we'll win."
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