Santa Fe school shooting prompts roundtable discussions with Gov. Abbott, Texas leaders

Roundtable events to include parents, teachers, students, legislators and more

By Dawn Jorgenson - Graham Media Group, Phil Archer - Reporter

AUSTIN, Texas - Days after 10 people were killed and 13 others were wounded during a shooting at Santa Fe High School in Galveston County, Gov. Greg Abbott announced Monday he will host a series of round table sessions in hopes of generating a solution that will improve safety and security at Texas schools.

The first of three round table discussions on mass shootings initiated by Abbott was held Tuesday in his office at the state Capitol in Austin.

The governor said the purpose of the meetings is to find ways to ensure tragedies like the Santa Fe shooting never happen again.

The meeting was closed to media. Reporters and photographers were allowed into the governor’s public reception room to hear Abbott’s opening statement and then ushered out into the hallway.

“Our mission for today's meeting is to get most comprehensive and most open discussion from the attendees and it is our feeling we can do that in an environment free of the media,” said Ciara Matthews, the governor’s deputy communications director.

Inside, the discussion, beginning at 1:30 p.m. and running two and a half hours, centered on best practices for securing school buildings and protecting students

The 23 attendees included Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Texas House Speaker Joe Straus, Sen. John Whitmire, (D-Houston), Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston), Rep. Harold Dutton(D-Houston), along with other elected and appointed officeholders, and school and law enforcement officials.

Abbott said the group generated useful ideas, including several that could be put into practice by the next school year.

Those include:

More funding for the School Marshal program, which provided law enforcement and weapons training for armed teachers; A comprehensive threat assessment program for schools based on research by the U.S. Secret Service;
And a mental health screening program pioneered by Texas Tech University that has been used to assess 42,000 students and referred about 1 percent of them for counseling.

There was also discussion of measures to fortify school buildings by reducing entrances and exits for easier monitoring and installing metal detectors, as well as arming teachers.

The Governor said there was broad agreement on developing measures to hold accountable parents of students who bring weapons into schools.

“How in the world can a parent not know about or be accountable for a situation where a student may be bringing a gun or a knife to a school?” Abbott said.

Following the Tuesday session, Whitmire called it a meaningful meeting with a lot of substance.

Gun control legislation was not discussed. Many observers assumed that gun control would not get serious consideration. Abbott is a staunch gun rights advocate in a state with 1.2 million Texans licensed to carry guns. In 2015, he signed into law bills allowing pistols to be carried openly by licensed owners, and firearms on school campuses. But Abbott said gun control will be discussed in the Wednesday session.

The topics for that panel will be gun violence and mental health issues. On Thursday, mass shooting survivors will tell their stories.

Copyright 2018 by KPRC Click2Houston - All rights reserved.