World Suicide Prevention Day

Texas School Safety Compliance with Digital Monitoring

It’s the back-to-school season in Texas and school safety is at the top of districts’ priority list with the implementation of legislation that was passed in June by the Texas State Senate and signed by Governor Greg Abbott. 

The policies mandate new school safety requirements for Texas school districts as well as amendments to the Texas Education Code (TEC). Senate Bill 11 is the broadest measure, its regulations include: 

The Emphasis on Prevention and Mental Health

School districts, open-enrollment charters, and public junior college Emergency Operations Plans (EOPs) must now address prevention in addition to mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery, as defined by the Texas School Safety Center (TxSSC) in conjunction with the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security or commissioner of education. 

What’s more, the EOP must ensure district employees have access to a telephone or other form of electronic communication devices to immediately contact emergency services, law enforcement, health department, or fire departments. The EOP must also provide for measures for district communications/technology infrastructure to adequate for communication during emergency situations.  

In addition to this, school districts must establish a chain of command that designates individuals responsible for making final decisions during a disaster or emergency and identifies other individuals responsible for their absence. The school district EOP must also include provisions that address physical and psychological safety for responding to natural disaster, active shooter, and other dangerous situations.  

Another critical change for the Texas Education Agency (TEA) is the creation of the Texas Child Mental Health Consortium. The consortium highlights the important role of mental health as it relates to school safety and student well-being. 

Threat Assessment 

Senate Bill 11 establishes Texas as one of the few U.S. states to mandate threat assessment teams in public school districts and open-enrollment charter schools. Threat assessment provides an evidence-based approach to identifying individuals who may pose a threat to school safety and provides intervention strategies before an incident occurs.  

Threats are now defined in the TEC as “harmful, threatening, or violent behavior” such as verbal threats, threats of self-harm, bullying, cyberbullying, fighting, the use of possession of a weapon, sexual assault or sexual harassment, dating violence, stalking, or assault.  

Mental health is also considered under new threat assessment provisions, the bill outlines TEA’s coordination with TxSSC to adopt rules that provide for psychological safety and multihazard approach to prevention, mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery in a crisis. 

Like the new chain of command required in EOPs, the school district board of trustees are required to establish threat assessment teams to serve at each campus to carry out the requirements and complete training.  

Consequences of noncompliance 

TxSSC will act as the regulatory agency of the new EOP requirements by reviewing and verifying compliance of district multihazard EOPs. District EOP review and verification process will be established by the TxSSC on a random or need-based cycle. 

The new requirements add additional pressure to school districts to comply with the new policies by requiring public hearings on school district noncompliance that implicate school district leadership. The new noncompliance policy was implemented to ensure school district leadership is held accountable for ensuring EOPs are up to date. The public hearing also provides parents and other community members the opportunity to speak on noncompliance issues as well. 

In addition to the public hearings, the Texas commissioner of education may directly order the district to comply with EOP requirements. If districts fail to comply within the commissioner’s terms, the commissioner has the ability to appoint a board of managers to oversee the operations of the district. 

Funding 

The bill would spend $110 million over the next two years, about $400 million lower than what the House had called for in SB 11, according to estimates by the Legislative Budget Board. 

School districts would receive about $10 more per student they could use toward improving the infrastructure of their campuses to make them safer; employing school resource officers or training school marshals (school employees trained to use a gun on school property); active shooter training among other provisions. 

How Digital Monitoring Can Help 

Digital monitoring provides the insight needed for thorough threat assessment. The fact is serious risks are often shared online before anything happens.  

Whether it’s a student with a gun in their backpack, a student who is hours from suicide, or a student about to engage in illegal drug use – sometimes a clue that something may be about to happen can only be seen through their use of technology. Without appropriate digital monitoring, schools are left to rely on what they see and on what other students tell them. Neither factors are reliable. 

Digital monitoring enables school leaders to identify risks that may otherwise go unnoticed. It gives a deeper picture of issues and concerns, alerts you to issues at an earlier stage and provides you with clear-cut evidence that’s vital when working with external agencies and partners. Digital monitoring is becoming one of the most effective means of preventing harm in schools today. 

Where physical security measures can prevent a threat at the school gate, digital monitoring provides crucial insight into student behavior much earlier, facilitating intervention before a low-level risk becomes a present threat.

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