• By Alisha “Tuff” Tuff • IDRA Newsletter • June-July 2023 •
In the wake of the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, the state legislature had a historic opportunity to support gun control and make significant investments to address youth mental health, support positive behavior interventions in schools, and strengthen student and family engagement. Instead, lawmakers prioritized legislation that mandates ineffective practices that negatively impact students, educators and families, including requiring the presence of police in schools and hardening measures.
Harmful Hardening and Policing Mandates
Following the Santa Fe and Sutherland Springs shootings in 2019, the Texas Legislature that year passed Senate Bill 11, which increased funding for school safety and security by establishing a school safety allotment. Unfortunately, the new funds could be used for such things as school-hardening equipment and hiring school-based police officers (Craven, 2019).
Since then, the youth mental health crisis has worsened (Abrams, 2023). Despite ample evidence of the importance of preventative practices, policymakers again turned to hardening school security and safety measures.
House Bill 3 passed by the Texas Legislature in 2023 requires schools to hire a police officer or another armed individual on every campus. This requirement creates a false sense of security. Research shows that the presence of armed security personnel does not prevent or deter targeted school violence (Craven, 2022; Drane, 2023; Duggins-Clay, March 27, 2023; Peterson, et al., 2021).
The bill also adds hardening, facilities and training standards and creates penalties for non-compliance – including the potential drastic assignment of a TEA-appointed conservator. While the bill does add a $15,000 per campus allotment for safety-related expenses, this modest appropriation is insufficient to meet the heightened requirements in the bill, let alone to invest in evidence-based preventative practices, such as mental health resources, positive school climate or positive behavior supports.
Missed Opportunity for Best Practices Data
Students and schools need the most up-to-date solutions that are evidence-based and age-appropriate to provide the best learning environment. HB 4449 by Rep. Reynolds would have established a task force to study and make recommendations for re-shaping Chapter 37 of the Education Code, which governs school discipline and safety in Texas (Tuff, April 2023). The bill failed to pass, missing an opportunity to provide critical data, analysis and proposals relating to the state of Texas schools’ discipline policies and practices.
New Protections for Student Civil Rights
Students thrive academically and socially when they can be themselves, where they are treated with dignity by those in authority, and where they are not subject to harmful discipline practices or behavioral interventions.
The Texas Legislature passed the “CROWN Act” (HB 567) by Rep. Rhetta Andrews Bowers that requires schools to eliminate discriminatory dress codes and grooming standards that restrict hairstyles and textures associated with one’s race (Tuff, March 2023). The bill empowers students to embrace their authentic selves and bring their culture into the class without being targeted, harassed or forced to sit out of special moments, such as graduation ceremonies or sports events.
In addition, Sen. Royce West’s “No Kids in Cuffs” bill (SB 133), prohibits school-based police and other security personnel from using physical restraints, like handcuffs, tasers and chemical irritants (pepper spray) on elementary school students in all but the most extreme circumstances (Duggins-Clay, March 8, 2023). The bill protects students from harmful tactics that can cause pain, emotional distress and trauma. Such tactics disproportionately impact Black students and students with disabilities.
IDRA will continue to push for evidence-based school safety policies that create safe learning environments for all students. See IDRA’s issue brief, What Safe Schools Should Look Like for Every Student – A Guide to Building Safe and Welcoming Schools and Rejecting Policies that Hurt Students, by Morgan Craven, J.D., for more information (https://idra.news/SafeSchoolsIB).
Abrams, Z. (January 1, 2023). Kids’ Mental Health is in Crisis. Here’s What Psychologists are Doing to Help. Monitor on Psychology, 54(1).
Craven, M. (June 2022). The Facts About School-Based Police. IDRA Newsletter.
Craven, M. (June-July 2019). New Discipline and Safety Policies for Texas. IDRA Newsletter.
Drane, K. (April 7, 2023). Every Incident of Mishandled Guns in Schools. Giffords Law Center.
Duggins-Clay, P. (March 8, 2023). Eliminate the Use of Harmful Restraints in Schools – IDRA Testimony for Senate Bill 133 submitted to the Texas Senate Committee on Education.
Duggins-Clay, P. (March 27, 2023). HB 3 Offers an Illusion of Safety but Fails to Invest in Real Solutions for Safe and Supportive Schools – IDRA Testimony Against House Bill 3 Submitted to the Texas House Select Committee on Youth Health and Safety.
Peterson, J., Densley, J., & Erickson, G. (2021). Presence of Armed School Officials and Fatal and Nonfatal Gunshot Injuries During Mass School Shootings, United States, 1980-2019. Jama Network Open, 4(2).
Tuff, A. (March 22, 2023). Texas’ CROWN Act Gives Every Texan a Fair Chance to Succeed Without Identity-Based Hair Discrimination – IDRA Testimony for House Bill 567 Submitted to the Texas House Committee of State Affairs.
Tuff, A. (April 17, 2023). Understanding Discipline Policies and Practices is Key to Strengthening School Safety and Student Success – IDRA Testimony for HB 4449, Submitted to the Texas House Committee on Youth Health and Safety.
Alisha “Tuff” Tuff was an IDRA Education Policy Fellow in 2022-23. Comments and questions may be directed to her via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[©2023, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the June-July 2023 edition of the IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]