By BRITTANY FHOLER
U.S. Rep. Roger Williams, District 25 (R-Austin) discussed his new bill to tackle school safety in a joint press conference with the Killeen Independent School District and the Copperas Cove Independent School District held Tuesday afternoon in the CCISD administration building.
Williams began with a moment of silence and prayer for the victims of the El Paso and Dayton, Ohio shootings.
“This weekend is another stark reminder that we must take action,” Williams said. “In this, the greatest country on earth, no parent should fear sending their child to school and no child or educator should fear for their own safety in a classroom. The time has come for all of us to work together to find solutions to the threats schools too often face.”
Williams co-sponsored H.R. 3665, “The School Violence and Mitigation Act of 2019,” with his Democratic colleague, U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, who represents Parkland, Florida, where 17 people were killed in the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in February 2018.
Williams said the bill has support of representatives from both sides of the aisle, numerous local superintendents and security experts from across the state.
“And you know when you get support from both sides of the aisle, it’s pretty good legislation,” Williams said.
The bill establishes a grant program that fully funds independent facility security risk assessments for individual public schools and a grant program that funds half of the cost for hard security improvements, unless a school receives a financial hardship waiver. Grant recipients must use the grant for installation of at least one silent panic alarm linked to the closest law enforcement agency for use in a school security emergency, such as a non-fire evacuation, lockdown or active shooter situation.
Over a period of 10 years, a total of $2 billion, at $200 million a year, will be distributed to schools who go through with the assessments and make the necessary changes. According to the bill, priority is given to schools that have experienced an event in which an individual has inflicted deadly harm or attempts to inflict deadly harm against multiple individuals or have a higher tier of vulnerability according to a school’s most recent independent facility security risk assessment.
Williams touched on the Santa Fe, Texas shooting where eight students and two teachers were killed in May 2018.
“The students and educators at Santa Fe High School were at the mercy of a deranged individual that shot to kill and faced few physical obstacles during that spree,” Williams said. “That horrific day hit close to home for many, especially those in small communities throughout the state.”
Following this shooting, Texas legislators and Governor Greg Abbott passed legislation to ensure the safety and security of Texas students and schools, and Texas now leads the country in conducting safety assessments, Williams said.
“My legislation builds off the success we have had in Texas by allowing schools to receive expert opinions on their schools’ security infrastructure and goes one step further by offering financial assistance to help fix uncovered vulnerabilities,” Williams said.
Williams added that school buildings should be protected just like airports, government buildings and high-profile politicians are.
“Our kids deserve better from us all and it is past time we start showing them that we hear their concerns and will act accordingly,” Williams said. “We owe it to the memories of those lost.”
Williams said that when Congress reconvenes on September 8, the focus will be to get the resolution through the House of Representatives and over to the Senate to be passed and ending up on President Donald Trump’s desk.
“I would like to think this is so important that maybe we can get it done in 30 to 45 days,” he said. “I’ve told my colleagues this when I left- I don’t think you do not want to be on this bill when school starts.”
Every three years, Texas school districts have been required to conduct a security audit to determine any weaknesses.
Like other Texas districts, Copperas Cove ISD has had an independent party perform a security audit of each campus and facility. With this bill proposed by Williams, those efforts are strengthened, said Superintendent Dr. Joe Burns.
“One of the challenges that you face is you have the security audits and you do all of those things, but until this legislative session, there were no resources put with them,” Burns said. “So you had to do it out of our pocket, which is money that’s really set aside to educate kids. The challenge that you face is trying to equip yourself and do the things you know are best practice and most promising practice but not having the resources to do all of it.”
Burns said that if the monetary amount associated with the bill were multiplied by 100 and every school in the country came to the table, the amount would be exhausted in one year, “just because there’s such a need.”
CCISD has already implemented security measures such as securing vestibles when people come on campus, checking I.D.s, implementing fencing around nearly all of the campuses, having a policy regarding doors and windows and a protocol in place for certain situations. CCISD also partners with the Copperas Cove Police Department for security and contracts to have school resource officers on the high school campus who can respond across the district. The district also trains with the CCPD for emergency situations, Burns said.
Burns said he applauds the bill.
“I think that when you look across the nation, it is not just Texas schools, it is schools everywhere,” Burns said.
Burns explained that there used to be two sacred places- church and school.
“Unfortunately, in our society, neither one of those places are sacred or safe in some instances anymore, because people see any place where people join together as an opportunity to create a negative or bad situation,” Burns said. “So, schools just happen to be a place where people congregate together, so anything that we have access to resource wise to provide the ability to respond in a more timely way, to be more prudent in the security measures we put in place, that’s always a benefit to us.”
Burns also encouraged people to contact their legislators to tell them to support this bill if they are “worried about the safety and security of your student or the safety and security of a loved one that works for a school district.”