The Arc of Texas Provides Recommendations on School Safety to Protect All Texans
The Arc of Texas Senior Specialist, Mental Health & Criminal Justice Kirk Noaker submitted written testimony to the Texas State House of Representatives Joint Committee Hearing on School Safety. Noaker provided testimony for the committee meeting on June 21, 2022. Read the testimony submitted below.
The Arc of Texas is paying close attention to legislative solutions to gun violence in public schools. Factors we are concerned about include, but are not limited to:
- The “RUN, HIDE, or FIGHT” protocol promoted by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for active shooter incidents is not feasible for many individuals with disabilities and access and functional needs. For example, students who use wheelchairs may find it challenging or impossible to hide under a desk or in a closet.
- Individuals with disabilities and access and functional needs may not be able to hear, physically comply with, or cognitively understand direct commands from law enforcement and first responders. For example, students on the autism spectrum may be unable to move while dealing with sensory considerations like blaring fire or security alarms, flashing lights, water from sprinkler systems, and the sounds of gunfire.
- The lack of awareness among emergency responders regarding what to expect and how to communicate effectively with individuals with disabilities with access and functional needs during and after an active shooter event is a concern. For example, emergency responders may not know they should avoid separating individuals with a disability or an access and functional need from their personal care assistant, service animal, durable medical equipment, or assistive device(s).
Establish Mandate for Inclusive, Standardized Law Enforcement Response
Law enforcement and first responders must be informed regarding what to expect and how to communicate effectively with individuals with disabilities and access and functional needs during and after an active shooter event. We recommend the consideration of a mandate to standardize law enforcement response to a critical incident that is inclusive of students with disabilities. The Uvalde school shooting demonstrates the need for universal (i.e., not regional or school specific) training protocols for first responders because the responders were from the Independent School District, Police Department, Sheriff’s Office, Constables Office, Department of Public Safety, Border Patrol, and neighboring jurisdictions. A standardized training protocol provides the most consistent and effective law enforcement response, especially when considering how to best promote the safety and security of individuals with disabilities and persons with access and functional needs. Once a mandate is established, law enforcement training would naturally be school and/or region specific.
We appreciate your consideration of this information and recommendations as we approach the 88th Texas Legislative Session. Please do not hesitate to contact The Arc of Texas for additional information or if we can be of service.