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TEA Commissioner: Texas school districts taking steps to "significantly improve" safety this fall

Only a fraction of Texas school districts have viable active shooter policies
Only a fraction of Texas school districts have viable active shooter policies 03:35

AUSTIN (CBSDFW.COM) - Texas Education Agency Commissioner Mike Morath said in response to the deadly mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, school districts across the state are taking steps that will significantly improve safety this fall.

His remarks came during testimony Tuesday afternoon before the Special Texas Senate Committee To Protect All Texans. 

"There are several immediate action steps that are being taken to significantly improve the level of safety in the fall," Morath said.

Morath told Senators those steps include reviewing schools' safety procedures, access points, and ensuring doors lock properly at all 9,000 schools across the state before classes begin for the fall.

A 2020 audit by the Texas School Safety Center, which reviews school districts' emergency operation plans, found that of the state's 1,022 school districts, only 200 had a viable active shooter policy, 196 districts had insufficient policies and 626 had none.

It was unclear how Uvalde CISD scored on the 2020 audit.

The Director of the Texas School Safety Center, Dr. Kathy Martinez-Prather, told Senators their organization doesn't conduct compliance checks on-site. 

"Not clear on our authority to be able to go and do compliance follow-up checks," Martinez-Prather said.

When asked by Senator Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, why she wasn't clear on their authority Martinez-Prather said, "The law does not stipulate us to go do that."

Campbell responded, "Does it stipulate that you can't?" 

Martinez-Prather answered, "It doesn't, but we will have districts question what authority do you have to come on our campus?"

The TEA Commissioner also said they're in the process of drafting a proposed rule that would require all schools no matter how old to comply with a new minimum safety standard, just as newly built schools are required to follow.

One Senator, Charles Perry, R-Lubbock asked Morath if new schools under construction have the same classroom doors as those at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde.

Director of the Texas Department of Public Safety Steve McCraw testified Tuesday those classroom doors could only be locked by using a key outside the classroom.

Morath said, "I don't know the answer to that question, I will have to find out that portion." 

Senator Perry responded, "I need to know that. That lock that was up here today, there is no excuse. That is probably universal on the old schools, the lock of choice. To have it where a teacher cannot secure it from the inside is unconscionable."

CBS 11 emailed the TEA for an answer to that question, but didn't hear back Wednesday.

On Thursday, two Texas House committees will hold a joint hearing related to Uvalde at the Capitol.

Lawmakers will consider recommendations on a number of issues developed by the committees during their next regular session in January, unless Governor Greg Abbott calls them back for a special session before then. 

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