State leaders and local school districts are ramping up security efforts as the 2022-23 school year begins and the next legislative session approaches, three months after a mass school shooting resulted in the deaths of 19 students and two teachers in Uvalde.

Over the summer, state legislators allocated new funding to school districts statewide to support school safety and mental health initiatives, while the Harris County Commissioners Court voted unanimously June 14 to request a report on county youth gun violence and create the Harris County Safe School Commission.

While New Caney ISD Superintendent Matt Calvert said school safety is always at the forefront of the district’s priorities, he noted tragedies such as in Uvalde can sometimes serve as a catalyst for improvement.

“Safety in general is something you always have to evaluate, especially after an event like [Uvalde],” Calvert said. “It’s always at the forefront. We always take that step back and say, ‘OK, what can we do better?’ We’re trying to create that protective bubble around our kids as best as possible.”

Calvert said the district has recently made several changes to increase security at campuses and school events, including the purchase of two portable walk-through metal detectors and requiring see-through bags at sporting events.

In Humble ISD, voters approved a $775 million bond referendum in May that earmarked $45 million for technology upgrades, which included upgrades for cybersecurity systems, security cameras and radio systems.

Since 1970, 177 shooting incidents have occurred at K-12 schools in Texas with nearly 25% taking place in the Greater Houston area. Data shows 38 of those Texas incidents happened between January 2020 and June 2022—the most of any decade prior.

“We have experienced fairly steady growth since [the 1990s],” said Mo Canady, executive director of the National Association of School Resource Officers. “School shootings drive demand [for school resource officers]; there is no question about it. I wish it was not that way, but it is.”

Statewide response

One week after the May 24 shooting in Uvalde, Gov. Greg Abbott requested the formation of two special legislative committees to investigate school safety and mass violence.

“This is the fourth mass-casualty event that we’ve had in Texas since I’ve been in office,” said state Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Houston, who previously served as the Public Education Committee chair, during a June 14 State of the State address. “The reality is that I look at this and say, ‘We’re culpable. I’m culpable.’ We’ve got to do something.”

In addition, state leaders allocated $100.58 million to school districts statewide June 28, including $50 million for bullet-resistant shields and $17.1 million for silent alert systems, among other school safety and mental health initiatives.

According to state leaders, the funding comes from a budget surplus in the Foundation School Program and therefore will not impact school operations or funding.

“Funding these much-needed initiatives marks the first of many steps that we will take at the Legislature to respond to the horrific events in Uvalde and prevent another tragedy like this from happening again,” Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan said in a June 28 news release.

Additionally on June 1, Abbott tasked the Texas School Safety Center with ensuring school districts statewide form safety and security committees, meet and address safety needs, train staff and substitute teachers on safety procedures, schedule schoolwide safety drills and assess all building access procedures. School districts will be required to complete the safety tasks and report their findings to the TSSC by Sept. 1. The center will then provide a statewide safety report to Abbott and the Texas Legislature by Oct. 9.

Local efforts

Locally, the Harris County Commissioners Court approved the appointment of five members to serve on the Harris County Safe School Commission June 28, among which was HISD Superintendent Elizabeth Fagen. The commission, which is aimed at addressing safety and security concerns at local school districts, presented its findings during an Aug. 23 Harris County Commissioners Court meeting.

Among the committee’s top recommendations were reprogramming all Harris County law enforcement radios for more efficient dispatch and response operations, increasing the number of counselors and social workers in schools, providing mental health distress training to parents and students, and conducting conflict resolutions training for students.

At the Aug. 23 meeting, the court also voted to extend the commission for an additional year.

Locally, Harris County Precinct 4 Constable Mark Herman said efforts have been made by his office to increase the number of law enforcement officials available to districts throughout the precinct, which includes Humble ISD.

“Last year, we had over 300 constable deputies participating over the entire school year,” Herman said in an emailed response, noting he did not have an estimate for how much the initiative would cost. “This year, there are indications there will be more due to concerns in communities.”

District initiatives

In NCISD, Calvert said his staff has been putting a continued emphasis on three key safety components: doors, badges and active supervision. According to Scott Powers, NCISD executive director of public relations, the district used portions of the $173 million bond approved by voters in 2015 to add secure vestibules and implement card reader access districtwide.

While Calvert said NCISD campuses use magnet-detecting wands, he noted the district recently purchased two portable walk-through metal detectors, which cost $6,500 each, for both of the district’s high schools that can also be used at sporting and school events.

Additionally, Calvert said the district is working toward having a police officer at each of the district’s 19 campuses, although he said the district is two officers shy of that goal. Calvert noted, however, that each campus still has police presence when needed.

“[The Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office], Department of Public Safety and constables are ready to show their presence on campus if, for whatever reason, NCISD police are not there,” he said.

In HISD, Chief Communications Officer Jamie Mount said the district employs more than 60 police officers and security guards who regularly patrol campuses and neighborhoods.

In addition to safety expenditures included in the May bond, Mount said roughly $10.3 million of the $575 million bond approved by voters in 2018 funded upgraded security cameras, controlled access to campuses, secure vestibules, and enhancements to the district’s police department and emergency operations center.

“The district constantly reviews safety and security protocols, procedures and equipment and makes adjustments as needed,” she said.

Officials from each district also touted the use of anonymous reporting systems to help prevent dangerous events before they occur. According to Mount, HISD’s iHELP app allows anyone to anonymously report safety concerns, and it is monitored 24/7.

Calvert said NCISD’s Safe School Reporting program is also continually monitored.

“If there was a potential [safety issue] for school the next day, [officers] are calling the parent and saying, ‘Hey, don’t let them on the bus. Bring them in. We need to sit down and talk,’ or they may show up on their doorstep,” he said. “[The program] really is an unsung hero.”

Andrew Christman, Emily Lincke and Hannah Norton contributed to this report.