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Researchers Discuss Psychological Impact Of Texas' New School Safety Proposals On Teachers, Students

Credit: Wikicommons http://bit.ly/1CPNiYT

Teacher groups are cautiously optimistic about Gov. Greg Abbott's recommendations to improve school safety and mitigate the threat of another school shooting. But researchers say these proposals might add more in-class stress to the educators they're meant to support.

Abbott’s list includes 40 recommended proposals for improving school safety, ranging from school districts installing an active shooter alert system to having districts subscribe and promote an app that allows students to anonymously report threats.

Mark Wiggins, with the Association of Texas Professional Educators, said the group's members welcome the additional state resources and recommendations.

“I mean, the more resources we can give teachers, all that stuff is a positive; all that stuff is a plus. At the same time, I think this brings into focus all of the challenges that teachers face in the classroom,” Wiggins said.

Wiggins said Wednesday teachers are not only responsible for encouraging parents to help them shore up their in-classroom supplies, but also for knowing when and how to approach a student that might be struggling mentally and then finding the help that student needs.

One of Abbott’s recommendations also calls for adding more mental health training for teachers.

This summer, the state’s Health and Human Services Commission will spend $2 million to provide teachers with training designed to spot and respond to students showing signs of mental illness.

The governor has said these recommendations are meant to instill a sense of safety and security, but Chris McCarthy believes they also represent a “new normal” for teachers and their students. McCarthy, an educational psychologist with the University of Texas at Austin, has spent many years researching in-class stressors and how they impact an educator’s capacity to teach.

McCarthy said if educators feel it is their job to constantly be on the lookout for the next school shooter, it will impact their job performance.

“What stress does is it reduces our concentration. It causes us to be less focused because we’re constantly in this alarm stage, and then you start to see signs of burnout,” McCarthy said.

Some Texas school districts have been proactive in their approach to address campus safety by implementing their own protocols.

Aubrey Chancellor, with San Antonio’s Northeast Independent School District, said the district contracted with a third party company in the last six weeks to monitor their students’ social media activity.

“Anytime there could be something that is perceived as a threat, then that company then calls our police department immediately, and our police officers go out to the home of that student and see if that student has access to weapons and see if it was a serious threat,” Chancellor said.

The governor’s office is providing the initial funding for some of these recommended school safety proposals, but Chancellor and others worry that money could quickly run out if state lawmakers do not see eye to eye with the governor and extend that funding during the 2019 legislative session.

Ryan Poppe can be reached at rpoppe@tpr.org or on Twitter @RyanPoppe1

Ryan started his radio career in 2002 working for Austin’s News Radio KLBJ-AM as a show producer for the station's organic gardening shows. This slowly evolved into a role as the morning show producer and later as the group’s executive producer.