Bob Daemmrich for The Texas Tribune
After a closed door meeting Tuesday on school safety and gun violence, Gov. Greg Abbott proposed a series of initiatives to prevent future school shootings, though he largely avoided talk of a special legislative session to immediately pass new laws.
The roundtable discussion was the first of three scheduled this week to discuss school safety and gun violence following a massacre at Santa Fe High School last week.
Abbott, a Republican, listed off numerous ideas and suggestions that came out of the three-hour meeting, but focused on four specific ideas that he said could be implemented before students come back to school next fall.
They included trying to provide a grant to the Texas School Safety Center to train local school districts and law enforcement agencies on collaboration, creating a statewide threat assessment system, expanding a Lubbock program aimed at preventing at-risk students from committing violent acts, and creating a list of recommendations for all schools on how they can immediately make their schools safer, like re-evaluating entrances and exits and placing law enforcement inside the school.
“They’re going to be some of the simplest but most effective strategies that can be employed to make sure that our schools are safer places when our kids walk into those schools next August,” Abbott told the press after the meeting.
Other ideas that Abbott mentioned were increasing the number of school counselors, creating incentives for students to share information about potential threats, and evaluating an expansion of a state program that arms teachers. He also spoke of a vague idea of mandating parent training to prevent shootings, and spoke at length about creating an app that would allow students, parents, and law enforcement to monitor school security cameras.
The governor focused largely on what could be done without legislative approval. When asked if a special session was needed to combat the issue of school shootings, as several politicians have suggested, he brushed it off.
“That’s a process question,” he said. “Right now we’re focused on substance issues. We need solutions first.”
Attendees of Tuesday’s discussion included leaders from the Texas House and Senate and the heads of the Texas Education Agency and the Texas Department of Public Safety. There were also local law enforcement and school officials, including the district attorney who will lead the prosecution against 17-year-old Dimitrios Pagourtzis, the accused shooter in Friday’s killings.
Most of them expressed optimism after the meeting.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick – who raised some eyebrows when he mentioned shortly after the shooting Friday that a possible solution could be to remodel Texas schools to limit the number of entrances and exits – said the meeting exceeded expectations.
“You could feel a unification of voices around the issues he discussed from various school districts and law enforcement,” he told The Texas Tribune.
State Sen. Joan Huffman, a Republican from Houston who leads the State Affairs Committee, and her colleague, State Sen. John Whitmire, a Houston Democrat and chair of the Senate’s Criminal Justice Committee, both echoed Patrick’s optimism after the meeting and were happy with many of the proposals. But Whitmire said they’ll have to be careful to avoid a “one-size-fits-all” approach.
He said that’s especially true when talking about parental involvement – one idea was mandating parental training. It’s important to understand Houston is different than Round Rock, he said.
“I know a school district in the Houston area that’s got 20,000 students who’ve got undocumented parents,” he said. “So when we try to incorporate parent involvement and hold parents accountable, you’ve got to face reality that some parents are not welcome to the school.”
Wednesday’s discussion will focus on gun regulations, mental health solutions, and underlying causes of gun violence, Abbott said just before the meeting. It will include advocates both for and against further gun restrictions, mental health experts, and social media experts, he said.
Thursday will be a day for the victims of mass shootings in Texas, including the school shooting in Santa Fe that killed 10 and one at a church in Sutherland Springs last fall that killed 26. The exact list of attendees for Thursday has not yet been released.
Democrats have largely welcomed a discussion on gun violence but criticized the effectiveness of any changes currently proposed by Republican leadership. State Rep. Chris Turner of Grand Prairie, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said Friday that the State should also pass universal background checks and require the reporting of stolen guns.
And in a news release Tuesday morning, U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Austin) said excluding several groups who want stricter gun regulation, including Moms Demand Action and March for Our Lives, will limit the potential for meaningful action. Texas Gun Sense, which advocates for further gun restrictions, is expected to attend Abbott’s discussion Wednesday.
After the meeting Tuesday, Abbott said the results of the roundtable shows that politician’s actions are already more than just talk.
“We came up with very solid solutions, and now it’s just a matter of implementing those solutions,” he said