State Rep. Cody Harris, PISD, Host of School Safety Forum | Education

Palestine Independent School District and State Rep. Cody Harris (R-Palestine) is hosting a school safety forum for area school administrators and staff on Wednesday, July 13.

“If the Uvalde and Santa Fe tragedies have taught us anything, it’s that no school is immune to this kind of evil that happens, so we better be as prepared as we can. possible,” Harris said. “As investigations into Uvalde continue to uncover what went wrong, I thought it was important to bring together all of the school districts I represent with other state leaders and agencies to provide our schools all available state resources. In addition to this, we want to learn about state and federal regulations that may prevent our educators from adopting or implementing the best school safety policies. We can never legislate to eliminate evil. But together, we can ensure that our schools have the capacity to stop this kind of evil before it walks through the doors.

Superintendent Jason Marshall said the Palestine Independent School District is honored to host this summer safety forum with Rep. Harris.

“We look forward to receiving and sharing safety information with our elected officials and other school districts in our area in preparation for the upcoming school year,” Marshall said.

During this four-hour event, there will be a panel discussion as well as a question and answer session. Guest speakers will include Representative Harris; Representative Dr. Greg Bonnen (R-Friendswood); and US Congressman Jake Ellzey via Zoom.

Other special guests will include Nim Kidd, the chief of the Texas Division of Emergency Management; Kathy Martinez-Prather, Ph.D, director of the School Safety Center; Tom Maynard, member of the State Board of Education; and Rep. Keith Bell (R-Forney).

Superintendents from Anderson, Cherokee, Henderson, Navarro, Hill, Freestone and Kaufman counties were invited to participate. School police and members of local law enforcement were also invited.

In June, following the mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde in May, Governor Greg Abbott directed the Texas Education Agency and the Texas School Safety Center to provide school districts with strategies and tools that will strengthen more security measures. The TEA and TxSSC released guidelines last week to improve the safety and security of public schools before the start of the upcoming school year.

The TEA is now directing schools to conduct exterior door security audits and review or, if necessary, update access control procedures. Those procedures include performing exterior door sweeps at least once a week to ensure doors are closed and locked while the instruction is underway, officials said.

Districts are also required to conduct a targeted safety audit before the start of the school year. The audit, designed by TxSSC, includes about 50 questions to consider for each educational institution, with about half of the questions related to campus procedures and the other half related to the campus physical plant, according to the education agency officials.

Other steps to take before the start of the school year include scheduling all mandatory drills, ensuring that all campus staff, including substitutes, are trained on safety procedures specific to their campus, and ensuring that all members of the threat assessment team, who are responsible for conducting an individualized assessment of the person of concern, are trained.

Schools must also convene a safety and security committee to review the district’s multi-hazard emergency operations plan and active threat plan, he said.

Many schools in and around Anderson County began safety assessments in late May after the Uvalde incident.

School districts will have to report compliance by Sept. 9, officials said. For items not in compliance by that date, TEA said it will compile information and submit it to the Texas Legislature to seek funding to help districts meet the requirements. Separately, TEA is working on a grant process to also ease financial burdens, officials said.

This is a private meeting and not open to the public.

Melvin B. Baillie