Schools to check exterior doors, beef up security under order from Abbott to TEA

School systems across Texas should be instructed to conduct weekly checks of exterior doors, according to a letter Gov. Greg Abbott sent the state’s education agency with several requests following the mass shooting at a Uvalde elementary school.

Abbott’s letter also requested Texas Education Agency officials instruct districts to “identify actions they can take prior to the start of the new school year that will make their campuses more secure” and “develop strategies to encourage school districts to increase the presence of trained law enforcement officers and school marshals on campuses.”

“Sadly, tragedy struck Texas again last week with the senseless shooting that occurred at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde,” Abbott wrote in the letter to Education Commissioner Mike Morath. “In the wake of this devastating crime, we must redouble our efforts to ensure that our schools provide a safe and secure environment for the children of Texas.”

Nineteen children and two teachers died in the May 24 shooting at Robb Elementary School. The gunman is believed to have entered the school through a door that did not lock when it was closed by a teacher.

In the week since the massacre, authorities have released conflicting accounts of how the shooting unfolded and how police responded, releasing some information presented as fact that was later withdrawn and at least once acknowledging some decisions in the response were wrong.

While some have focused attention on the police response and others on Texas’ gun laws, Abbott has suggested schools need to be further “hardened” against intruders. He announced Wednesday that state officials will begin random, unannounced visits to schools to check whether they are in compliance with state-mandated safety measures.

Additionally, Abbott called for leaders of the state Legislature to create committees to evaluate school and firearm safety, but stopped short of calling a special legislative session, drawing criticism from some Democratic lawmakers.

Following a mass shooting at Santa Fe High School that left 10 students and a teacher dead, the state Legislature in 2019 passed a law to “harden” schools and require they conduct behavioral threat assessments. Legislators passed school security policies, mental health programs for schools and a pathway for teachers to arm themselves in class.

A Chronicle investigation published this year found schools do not have enough mental health providers.

In his letter Thursday, Abbott directed Morath and the TEA to prepare rules to ensure existing school facilities are held to heightened safety standards and determine the cost for districts to comply with the rules. The agency had adopted rules to ensure safety in facilities built after last November, Abbott said.

“Your task is to provide ways to make schools safer,” the letter states. “The Office of the Governor and the Texas Legislature need this critical information to determine the best ways to secure our schools and how to properly allocate funding.”

The governor still failed “to address the most critical factor in school shootings – too many guns in the hands of people who shouldn’t have them,” said Clay Robison, spokesman of Texas State Teachers Association.

“He needs to propose and support laws that make it more difficult for dangerous people to acquire firearms,” Robison said. “He can start by calling for repeal of the state law that allowed the Uvalde shooter to legally acquire an assault rifle at the age of 18 and use it to kill 19 school children and two teachers.”

[email protected]