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How The Newtown Shooting Is Affecting School Safety In Texas

Texas School Safety Center

Texas Matters: After reviewing school district safety audits, the attorney general's office found that 78 Texas school districts were not compliant with the law. The Newtown tragedy is also having an effect in San Antonio school districts, where two students who were making jokes about bomb threats and shootings on their own campuses were arrested. Texas Monthly crowns its 2012 Bum Steer of the Year: Lance Armstrong.

Reviewing what happened, and why, in Newtown:

The grieving continues in Newtown, Conn. after the horrifying slaughter of innocent children.  A man armed with a semi-automatic assault rifle shot his way into the school building and killed 26 people – 20 of them children who were 6 and 7 years old.

It is hard to make sense of the attack, and whatever the investigation reveals, there will never be a complete explanation for the massacre -- the selection of the victims, or insight into the killer’s state of mind -- that will satisfy the question: 'Why?'

We live in a nation that has become callused and accustom to mass shootings. These events become momentary blips on the news’ cycle radar screen, but this one appears to be different. The scale of the carnage, preciousness of the young victims and the inspirational and heroic bravery of the principal and teachers that fell that day all seem to compel the nation to take a critical look at itself.

This shooting has significantly changed the timbre of the discourse about gun control. Before Sandy Hook, it was virtually impossible to even discuss issues like re-instating the ban on assault weapons sales.

At the very least, we can double check that we are doing all that we can to protect our children from the monsters who already carry guns and do mean them harm.

How safe are Texas schools?

Immediately after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, Gov. Rick Perry ordered Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams to direct Texas school districts to review their emergency operation plans to ensure all schools are prepared to respond to potential threats.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott held a press conference that focused on school preparedness in case of an attack.

"I was shocked to learn that there are 78 independent school districts across the state of Texas listed on this sheet that are not in compliance with the school safety standards - either because they have not submitted a school safety plan or their school safety plan is not in compliance... As we have all observed, coming up with a plan in the midst of a shooting incident is a recipe for complete disaster. The only way these schools can do everything possible to try to achieve the highest level of safety for their students is to have a detailed plan in place and then practice that plan in the event that a shooter does come on campus. As we've seen in Connecticut, this is not the type of event that can be anticipated."

A state agency was created in 1999, after the Columbine shootings, with the job of helping school districts prepare for the worst; Jennifer Steele is the associate director of the Texas School Safety Center.       

"We have such a great staff at the Texas School Safety Center, and what makes that so special is that every one of those staff is there for a very personal reason -- a passion, a desire to help schools with this safety issue. It's not just a job to us, we know how important it is for our state and our country, and so it hit us very hard, and then having to respond to this on a daily basis since then just really a mixed emotion of sadness -- our hearts go out to those in Sandy Hook -- but also a gratefulness that, like you said, we've been able to escape that thus far in Texas. And wake up call as well, and a reminder that we cannot lose sight, that we have to put safety first and foremost in our minds on a daily basis."

Steele said that by Thursday, Dec. 20, the list of 78 schools not in compliance was reduced to 29 as more districts got their paperwork in and safety concerns were addressed.

Prank bomb threats in San Antonio

On top of dealing with the tragedy of Sandy Hook – and making campuses secure to deal with the potential threat of a copycat attack – School Districts in Texas and across the nation have been dealing with another problem – prank bomb threats and talk of a school attack. These might be attempts at lame humor – but school districts are taking this seriously. And at least one Texas school district – San Antonio’s Northside ISD is arresting and booking students into county jail for this behavior.

Pascual Gonzalez is the spokesperson for Northside ISD.

"Northside School District has arrested two students this week for making threats against the safety of the students at their schools; one was a bomb threat, one was a shooting threat and both of those boys ended up in jail... Parents are already anxious, they are already on high alert -- students are the same way -- so this just makes it worse for everybody involved, but even more importantly it is a criminal action."

In an email received on Thursday afternoon, the district said that they made a third arrest this week when a 16-year-old male was caught at Stevens High School who was not a student there. When campus police detained him they found no weapons.

The two arrests for threats were at Taft High School.

Credit Texas Monthly
The December issue of Texas Monthly features Lance Armstrong as the magazine's 2012 Bum Steer of the Year.

Tour de Bum Steers!

It's the end of the year, and that means a chance to pause and examine the accomplishments of the last 12 months -- or laugh at the failures of a group the Texas Monthly calls the "bum steers." Each year one individual is given the Bum Steer Award and 2012’s ignoble is champion doping athlete Lance Armstrong.

Jake Silverstein is the editor of Texas Monthly.

"When you go from, in 2007 being on the cover of the magazine literally with a halo over your head to five years later showing up as the Bum Steer of the Year, it's pretty significant. The bum steer traditionally is more reactive to events than anything else. Its not as if we are stepping out on some giant limb by calling Lance the bum steer of the year -- everybody agrees with it -- and frankly there has been remarkably little in the way of protestations from his fans since we published it. I frankly had expected a little bit more."

Other notable contenders for the title include: Tom Head, a Lubbock county judge who wanted to raise a county-funded militia to defend Lubbock from UN forces, and the Sierra Blanca highway checkpoint that busted Snoop Dog and Fiona Apple this year, and is notorious for catching other celebrities as well.

David Martin Davies can be reached at dmdavies@tpr.org and on Twitter at @DavidMartinDavi