Educators Say That Gov. Greg Abbott’s New School Safety Measures Are Not Enough
TEXAS — June 13, 2018
This month Gov. Greg Abbott released the "School and Firearm Safety Action Plan" as a response to the deadly Santa Fe High School shooting. His school safety plan contained only modest changes to gun laws but was filled with ideas on how to prevent school shootings by “hardening” schools to make them more resistant to attackers. He also proposed improvements to the system for reporting felony convictions and adjudications of mental illness, both of which trigger prohibitions on gun possession under federal law, and hire more counselors to focus on student mental health.
Texas school officials and experts say that Abbott's proposals are a step in the right direction, but not enough. They believe the governor should go further to improve mental health resources in schools.
Merely identifying students who are having a mental health crisis isn't enough, said Tammi Mackeben, president of the Lone Star State School Counselor Association. Teachers, administrators, and counselors all need to work together to improve overall student mental health, with counselors ready to step in once problems appear, Mackeben said. "Counselors can’t be the only individuals that are recognizing when students have mental health issues," she noted.
Texas is one of 20 states that don't require schools to have counselors, and it has the fifth highest student-to-counselor ratio in the country, with an average of 684 students for every counselor, according to the American School Counselor Association.
Abbott’s plan recommends freeing up school counselors to focus on students' mental health and behavioral needs rather than on tasks like scheduling and college applications, as they used to be tasked by school administration. To do that, Abbott recommends allowing schools to shift money toward counseling and mental health services.
But teacher organizations like the Association of Texas Professional Educators say schools don’t have excess funding to reallocate.
Abbott also recommended expanding “mental health first aid” training programs for school district employees. The program gives teachers, administrators, and staff the tools to understand and identify mental illness until someone with further training can respond.
Ron Avi Astor, a University of Southern California professor of social work and education, said that the governor’s plan is not complete. “All power to him for getting more social workers, counselors, and psychologists on school campuses because we need those, but I think the (plan) should go further and have more social and emotional focus if he wants to create real change,” Avi Astor said.
Avi Astor along with a coalition of school violence experts worked to create a school shooting prevention plan following the Parkland High School shooting in Florida earlier this year. Their plan, like Abbott’s, recommends greater student access to school counselors but placed emphasis on creating a positive climate in schools to prevent students from feeling isolated.