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Abbott proposals said a start

Gov. Greg Abbott’s proposal to deal with horrific shooting incidents, such as the one at Santa Fe High School, includes receiving support from local school and law enforcement officials.

That is through the expansion of mental health screenings, which can be used to identify potential threats and get students the help they need preventatively.

“One of the biggest things for me in this is the prevention,” Aubrey ISD Superintendent David Belding said. “Identify students who are in crisis ahead of time and be proactive to prevent anything from ever happening is something I’m interested in researching into what he is proposing, and how that fits in.”

According to the Texas Tribune, the governor wants to use $20 million in state money to expand mental health screenings through the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center. One major change, the Tribunereported, is to create two classifications of school counselors: one to help with a student’s academics and the other to focus on their mental health.

Belding said the district has “done some work here” on mental health support and identification. The idea, he said, is to be supportive of a child and get them “on a healthier path” if there’s something going on that must be addressed.

That particular aspect is part of a 40-point plan that came out of a recent meeting between Abbott and numerous officials. Other parts of the plan include limiting who can buy and keep guns, increasing the presence of police officers and school marshals, who are armed school personnel, and expanding the offenses for which a student can be removed from class.

“It’s good,” Pilot Point police Chief Tim Conner said. “I think they give a lot of the decision making to the district, which is empowering to the district. They control their own safety in some respects. We will partner with our district locally whichever initiatives they chose to embrace and support.”

Pilot Point ISD Superintendent Dan R. Gist said district personnel received profiling training a while back and that it might be time to consider doing that again. Also, Gist noted, bullying on social media needs to be addressed because that is where a lot of bullying activity occurs.

“It’s important that we bring that to the forefront with kids,” Gist said. “Words do matter, and [people] do have feelings. We do a little more latitude and discipline with kids. Before we didn’t have a lot of latitude with things that happened on campus. … We can’t control the world, but at the time we can have these talks with kids, and if they go too far, we can punish them.”

Also, the PPISD recently approved a measure to train and arm school personnel, which the school district will fund.

“I like that they are talking about training,” Gist said. “I don’t know when we are going to see that money. We have to train this summer, and it’s not real clear whether we can apply after the fact. Obviously, we’re going to arm our staff.”

Gist did call Abbott’s proposals a start, adding it was better than doing nothing in light of what happened at Santa Fe High School. Currently, he noted, PPISD schools already require people to wait to be allowed in through a buzzer operated from the school office. Although that is not a 100 percent deterrent to a potential shooter, it can slow someone down, giving others more time to react, Gist said.

As for increasing reasons to remove troublesome students from class, Belding said that’s an option.

“At the same time, we don’t want to take action that is not appropriate,” he said. “We are committed to having our students and our staff as safe as possible in our facilities and have a great learning environment for them.”

Another aspect is keeping a closer eye on social media to identify potential danger using an application called “iWatchTexas,” which reportedly will allow residents to report suspicious activity or behavior on a statewide basis. The application will be launched next month by the Texas Department of Public Safety, it was reported in the Tribune.

Aubrey ISD does have a website where people can report suspicious activity, and it operates 24 hours a day and is manned all the time, Aubrey ISD Police Chief Scott Collins said.

“We have that information,” Collins said. “Our program is on every one of our web pages, and it’s accessible and gets the information straight to us.”

Besides being encouraged to use social media to report suspicious activity, Aubrey students are also educated about the effects of negative postings, even ones that might seem “innocent,” Belding said.

Gist also emphasized it’s important for students to report potentially troubling activity.

Unlike Pilot Point, Aubrey decided not to arm school personnel, at least for now. Rather, it opted to hire two additional officers, bringing the total to three. Collins was the lone member of the AISD police force until March, when the hires were made.

“Every school district is going to have to analyze their situation and decide what is right for their community and their children and staff,” Belding said. “We have taken the approach of adding trained police officers and have stronger and better coverage that way. As things move forward, and there is more detail about [these proposals], we’ll continue to look at it.”

Belding added the district is not “taking anything off the table” regarding how it will protect students and faculty.

“We leave that decision to the board, the superintendent and the staff,” Conner said regarding Pilot Point. “We’re not going to take a position on that. If they move forward and do something like that, we will partner with them.”

If the PPISD school board approves funding, there will be an additional SRO patrolling PPISD schools next year; currently, the district has one SRO, who is stationed at the high school. Both Conner and Collins said their departments have engaged in emergency drills, with Belding adding AISD students go through lockdown drills as well.

“We all want to do whatever we can do to prevent something like that from happening and be prepared with the right kind of response,” Belding said.

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