Harris County commissioners approved the appointments of five candidates to the Harris County Safe School Commission following an executive session of their June 28 meeting.
Each of the four commissioners and the county judge nominated one person to the commission. The commission will address school safety for private schools as well as Harris County’s 25 independent school districts. Members will present their findings to the court before the end of their term Aug. 1 to prepare for the beginning of the 2022-23 school year.
“We just came up with a great group of folks,” Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey said.
The appointees include Saami Baig, a high school student at the John Cooper School in The Woodlands; Traci Latson, a teacher at the Meyerland Performing and Visual Arts Middle School; Calandrian Simpson Kemp, founder of No Weapon #1Life Empowerment Foundation and member of Moms Demand Action; Humble ISD Superintendent Elizabeth Fagen; and Lisa Andrews Alpe, vice president of the Spring Branch ISD school board.
Ramsey proposed the commission—which was approved unanimously during the court’s June 14 meeting—to address safety and security concerns at the local level. The commission met for the first time June 30.
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo’s appointee, 16-year-old Baig, is an active member of the Houston chapter of March for Our Lives.
“One thing that I think I [bring] to the table [is] a perspective coming from a student who does recognize that gun violence is one of the leading causes of death for kids,” Baig told Community Impact Newspaper.
While there are no concrete plans out of the commission’s first meeting, Baig said he is excited about a potential education program for parents to help them understand indicators of gun violence and preventive gun safety measures.
“Telling parents that they can get a free gun lock or the fact that their child is at a higher risk of suicide if they have easy access to a gun in their home can go a long way in helping people who are my age,” Baig said.
Although Baig thought there should be more students on the commission, he said he appreciated the diversity of voices on the commission and would communicate with the large student body in March for Our Lives Houston to bring their voices to the table.
Fagen, who is heading into her 15th year as a superintendent and seventh with Humble ISD, also touted the different views and expertise in the group. She was Ramsey's appointee.
“We’re so much stronger than any one of us are alone,” Fagen said to Community Impact Newspaper. “[With] Harris County being the third largest county in the country, ... I think that putting our collective voices together as a county and saying, 'We would like to see this happen,' it gives me hope that that’s possible.”
According to Fagen, her previous tenures in Tucson, Arizona, and Douglas County, Colorado, have given her the opportunity to see how different states approach school safety. She was serving as superintendent to the district neighboring Arapahoe High School when it was the site of a school shooting in 2013.
“I had a school [in my district] that was just 1 mile away from that particular campus,” Fagen recalled. “I immediately reached out to that superintendent and just had a close-up view of everything that happened and what that district went through.”
Fagen’s own district thwarted a “Columbine-like” plan by two students due to an anonymous tip program. She said the tip program taught her the importance of working with law enforcement and how to use information to prevent attacks before they happen.
In HISD, Fagen worked to found iHELP, the district’s method for anonymous reporting. Its name came from advice from the woman who invented Safe2Tell in Colorado.
“[The inventor] said [to me], 'If I had to do it all over again, I would never call it telling because kids don’t like to tell on each other. But they do like to help each other,'” Fagen said. “So when we invented ours, we did it from the perspective of we’re all here to help each other.”
Kemp, who lost her son George Kemp Jr. in 2013 to gun violence, previously addressed commissioners at its May 24 meeting following the declaration of June as Gun Violence Prevention Month. The court voted 3-2 on the resolution, with Ramsey and Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle opposed.
“Every time I see gun violence on the news, it triggers me, but it also triggers me to get back and get this red shirt on and fight again for my community,” Kemp said.
At the June 28 meeting, Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia praised Kemp, his appointee, for her work in gun safety, violence prevention and safety for children.
"I just think she will be a tremendous asset," Garcia said.