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Panic Buttons, Automatic Locks & Bulletproof Windows Top the Proposed Safety Rules After Uvalde Shooting

These proposed requirements could take effect this school year after the Texas Education Agency takes public comment into consideration

Two Department of Public Safety officers test classroom doors and patrol the campus at Dalton Elementary School on the first day of school in Uvalde on Sept. 6, 2022. This week, the state education department issued proposed rules to beef up security at public schools. (Evan L’Roy/The Texas Tribune)

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The Texas Education Agency announced Thursday a plethora of proposals that would, among other changes, require public schools to install silent panic alarms and automatic locks on exterior doors.

Other proposals include inspecting doors on a weekly basis to make sure they lock and can be opened from the outside only with a key. Two-way emergency radios would also have to be tested regularly. Schools would need to add some sort of vestibules so visitors can wait before being let in, and all ground-level windows would have to be made with bulletproof glass.

These proposed requirements come about five months after a gunman killed 21 people, including 19 children, at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde. The gunman entered a door that had been closed by a teacher, but the automatic lock failed.

If approved, schools would have to start putting in place these safety measures starting in 2023. Before the end of this year, the education department will collect public comments on the proposed rules.

The state has allocated $400 million for increased safety measures that will be disbursed to districts. In the coming weeks, the education department will make a grant application available to districts. Districts will receive those grants based on enrollment, while smaller, rural schools will receive the minimum $200,000.

Proposing these safety measures is the latest action the state has taken to secure schools in the wake of the Uvalde shooting. In June, the education department announced that it would check all the locks on exterior doors prior to the start of the 2022-2023 school year and review every district’s school safety plans.

Matthew Gutierrez, superintendent of the Seguin Independent School District, said the safety measures that the state would require are needed, but he’s not sure smaller school districts like his would be able to meet a 2023 implementation date.

The 7,000-student district is located about 36 miles east from San Antonio.

Gutierrez also said he’s not sure if the funding available would be enough for the state’s 1,026 school districts that vary dramatically in size.

“We had the opportunity to look at costs and just how significant it would be when you think of [adding] shatterproof glass,” he said.

Upgrading aging schools will prove to be another monetary issue as they don’t have the infrastructure to be easily upgraded, Gutierrez said. As part of the midterm elections, the Seguin school district is asking its voters to approve a $15 million package that will go to upgrading security features on several campuses, but that’s nowhere near enough to cover what the district needs.

Brian Woods, superintendent of the Northside Independent School District, echoed Gutierrez and said his main concern is cost.

“What appears to be perhaps affordable given the size of the grant today may not be in six months because so many districts will be out spending money,” Woods said.

His school district includes the northwestern neighborhoods in San Antonio and serves about 102,000 students.

As Texas moves forward with different safety measures, experts have said there is no indication that beefing up security in schools has prevented violence. Rather, they can can be detrimental to children, especially Black and Hispanic children. Black students are overrepresented in all types of disciplinary referrals and are more likely to have their behavior addressed by school police officers than their white peers.

Advocates and Uvalde parents have criticized the state’s response in the months after the shooting, demanding state lawmakers raise the minimum age to purchase a semi-automatic rifle in the state from 18 to 21 years old.

They have called on Gov. Greg Abbott to call a special session to make this happen. Abbott, who has signed legislation to expand gun rights, hasn’t budged.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune, a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

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