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11.5.22 – Austin American

Panic alarm systems, walls or fences around school grounds, and entry-resistant film on windows are among the safety features proposed in a new set of draft rules the Texas Education Agency released this week.

The suggested rules are the latest steps in the state’s response to parents’ calls for increased school safety in the wake of the May 24 shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde that left 21 people dead.

The physical upgrades districts would need to make under the new rules include default locking on exterior doors, two-way radios and numbering systems on exterior doors.

The required panic alarm system would be a button that school staff could press either physically or on a phone that notifies all staff and school administrators, which would then alert law enforcement agencies of the emergency, according to agency officials. If campuses have electronic locking systems on their doors, the alarm would also lock all the doors. Staff would get a notification if the lock on a door didn’t close all the way, according to the agency.

After the Uvalde shooting, Gov. Greg Abbott in June ordered the education agency to create rules to ensure a minimum level of safety at Texas school campuses.

The proposed rules, issued Thursday, also suggest some practices for schools, such as making sure each unlocked door is monitored by a staff member during school hours and doing a weekly check of doors and locks.

Some school districts already have been working on security updates.

The Eanes district has installed cameras, fencing around the perimeters of campuses and alarms that sound when doors are propped open, Eanes spokeswoman Claudia McWhorter said.

“We’ve been working on these TEA regulations well before they were required and continue to make improvements,” she said. “Most of these projects are funded through our past bond programs. We have more proposed for a potential 2023 bond.”

The Pflugerville district already has two-way radio on every campus and locks on every door except for those at the front entrance, district spokeswoman Tamra Spence said. Campuses also have a secure entry system that doesn’t allow visitors into the main campus, she said.

“We have multiple safety precautions currently in place for our campuses and facilities, and we are constantly working to increase the safety and security of our campuses for our students and staff members,” Spence said.

The education agency’s proposed requirements also come after Abbott’s office in October announced $400 million for school districts to upgrade doors, windows, fences and other safety equipment.

The money will be distributed based on enrollment, but smaller districts will get at least $200,000, according to state officials.

The Austin district is slated to receive about $3.1 million.

The state also will give out grants for districts to purchase an emergency alert alarm system.

The proposed rules are still in a preliminary stage and won’t be up for a final review until at least December.

If the rules were to be adopted, districts would need to start implementing the changes right away, according to state officials. By August, district officials would need to show they have contracted with a company and produced a final timeline to finish any necessary upgrades.

The state also proposed annual audits to make sure districts are keeping up with requirements.

Public comments can be provided on the proposed changes from Nov. 11 to Dec. 12.