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Governor’s school safety plan: $120M in immediate funding, armed marshals, crisis health managers

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Wednesday recommended dozens of strategies to make schools safer in the wake of the deadly shooting at a Houston-area high school, including increasing the presence of law enforcement officers at schools.

The Republican and staunch gun-rights supporter released a 43-page report that also included suggesting more mental health screening for students. A handful of the recommendations involved gun safety in Texas, a state that embraces its gun-friendly reputation and has more than 1.2 million people licensed to carry handguns.

Abbot said funding for some of the recommendations will be aided by federal grants, though others require state lawmakers to weigh in.

“We all share a common bond: And that is we want action to prevent another shooting like what happened at Santa Fe High School,” Abbott, who is campaigning for re-election, said during a news conference at Dallas school district headquarters.

The report comes a day after students returned to Santa Fe High School for the first time since the May 18 shooting that killed eight students and two substitute teachers, and critically wounded a police officer.

The recommendations were made following three days of mostly closed-door meetings that Abbott quickly organized last week with school districts, shooting survivors and groups on both sides of the gun-control debate, among others.

So far, the governor has ignored calls from a handful of lawmakers from both parties to call the Legislature into special session to address gun laws – a sharp contrast to the response in Florida following the February high school shooting there that killed 17 people. Florida lawmakers, who were already in session, passed a gun-control package three weeks later, thanks in part to a lobbying campaign led by student survivors of the attack.

Texas lawmakers aren’t scheduled to meet until January 2019. And unlike the students in Florida, several students at Santa Fe High School have been vocal opponents of increased gun control, including some who were invited to meet with Abbott last week.

Students who had classes in the area of the shooting were the first allowed back into the school Tuesday, followed by the rest about two hours later. All students then gathered for a two-hour assembly honoring the victims, and counselors were available.

Abbott visited the campus Tuesday, privately speaking with students, parents, teachers and staff, and presented first responders with an award for their actions.

Authorities have charged a 17-year-old student, Dimitrios Pagourtzis, with capital murder in the attack. He’s accused of using a shotgun and pistol that belonged to his father. He’s jailed without bond.

The family of one of the students killed in the attack has filed a lawsuit against Pagourtzis’ parents.

Here is a brief look at the governor’s plan:

– $120 million to help schools implement safety strategies immediately

– Encourage schools to allow regular access to schools for law enforcement patrols

– Encourage law enforcement agencies to use school facilities for things like lunch breaks, thereby leading to an increased law enforcement presence on campuses

– Prioritize the hiring retired peace officers – specifically police, sheriffs, constables and military veterans for school security

– Training more school marshals (armed teachers or staff members) this summer at no cost to school districts

– Install active shooter alarm systems different from fire alarms. (During recent school shootings, the fire alarms went off and teachers and students rushed out of class and into the path of shooters.)

– Reduce number of entrances and exits at school facilities

– Work to identify students who pose a possible risk and remove them from school, provide help with mental health treatment

– Greater investment in mental health with more “crisis health managers”

– Introducing a law that will remove students who threaten teachers or others students from school

– Rolling out a new and upgraded mobile app called “I Watch Texas. The app will be active next month and will allow users to submit anonymous tips.

– Do more to keep guns safe and out of the hands of criminals

– New law would define a child as someone under the age of 18, meaning gun owners must do more to keep guns out of the hands of children and teenagers.

– 100,000 gun locks for Texans free of charge

– TEA will work with school districts to prioritize $62.1 million in new federal funding toward immediate school safety improvements, including school hardening, increased law enforcement patrols, implementation of mental health programs, and other recommendations discussed in this plan.

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