The Arc of Texas Provides Recommendations on School Safety to Protect All Texans

The Arc of Texas Leadership and Advocacy Coordinator Wendy Ward submitted written testimony to the Texas State Senate To Protect All Texans Special Committee. Ward provided testimony for the committee meeting on June 21, 2022. Read the testimony submitted below.

Testimony

Thank you for your leadership in the 87th Texas Legislature. The Arc of Texas looks forward to a productive interim that maintains the meaningful momentum you have generated for thoughtful policy deliberation.

As a statewide membership organization, The Arc of Texas promotes, protects, and advocates for the human rights and self-determination of more than a half-million Texans with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). In collaboration with twenty-seven (27) local chapters across the state, we work with Texans with IDD and their families to identify barriers to and solutions for quality community services and supports, access to civil rights and criminal justice, competitive integrated employment, and inclusive education. With their input in mind, The Arc of Texas respectfully submits the following recommendations regarding school safety.

Recommendations for School Safety to Protect All Texans

The Arc of Texas is paying close attention to legislative solutions to gun violence in public schools. As members may know, one of the Uvalde shooting victims was a special education teacher.i It is possible that students with disabilities receiving special education services were among those killed. Around 11.3 percent of Texas students in public schools are students with disabilities.ii And we know that students with disabilities and access and functional needs are often left behind in planning for school shooting response and other critical incidents. iii

Factors we are concerned about include, but are not limited to:

  1. 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.iv For example, students who use wheelchairs may find it challenging or impossible to hide under a desk or in a closet.
  2. 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.v
  3. 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).vi

With these factors in mind, we propose the following solutions to school safety to adequately protect all Texans:

  1. Create a Council on Emergency Response Protocols
  2. Ensure comprehensive and inclusive school emergency plans
  3. Establish a mandate for inclusive, standardized law enforcement response to critical incidents

Create a Council on Emergency Response Protocols

Little has been done to integrate certain populations, including children at various developmental stages and individuals with disabilities, into emergency preparedness planning in schools. We believe that in the event of an emergency, schools must consider the needs of all students. Increasingly schools are developing protocols to respond to emergency events, and as they do, it is critical that these protocols are inclusive. Educational institutions must be prepared to protect all students, regardless of age, developmental stage, and ability. To deal with insufficient emergency response protocols for all students, we respectfully ask for legislation similar to H.R.7859 – PREP for All Students Act of 2022 during the 88th Texas Legislative Session.vii A Council on Emergency Response Protocols would validate the establishment of accessible, developmentally appropriate, culturally aware, and trauma-informed emergency response protocols in public schools, early childcare and education settings, institutions of higher education, and for other purposes.

Ensure Comprehensive and Inclusive School Emergency Plans

Fundamentally, a truly holistic, comprehensive, and inclusive school emergency plan should address the safety requirements of all students with disabilities in the planning of emergency drills to ensure that no one is left behind. The state of Minnesota adopted a comprehensive school safety guide highlighting categorical disability areas for students receiving special education services required by the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, as well as students receiving services under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, students with temporary conditions, and English language learners.viii These are groups of students who may need specialized assistance in emergency situations. Students with disabilities and access and functional needs may have IEPs (Individualized Education Program) that list annual goals for academic achievement and functional performance. Minnesota’s school safety guide proposes that IEPs include individual emergency plans involving the participation and input of parents, teachers, paraprofessionals, first responders, and students if possible.ix

Texas should replicate best practices of other states such as Minnesota so that students with disabilities and access and functional needs are included in the design and implementation of emergency drills, exercises and response to active shooter situations and other critical incidents. Schools should collaborate with key stakeholders and first responders to develop protocols that are based on research, the needs and preferences of students with disabilities, and staff capacity.x

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.

i Wertheimer, T. (2022, May 26). Texas Shooting: The teachers who sacrificed their lives to protect children. BBC News. Retrieved June 17, 2022 from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-61593071.
ii The Annie E. Casey Foundation KIDS COUNT DATA CENTER. (2022). Special education students in Texas. The Annie E. Casey Foundation. Retrieved June 17, 2002 from
https://datacenter.kidscount.org/data/tables/3816-special-education-students#detailed/2/any/false/2043,1769,1696,1648,1603,1539,1381,1246,1228,1070/any/7868,7867
iiiDavidson, J. (2018, March 14). Schools aren’t preparing students with disabilities for active shooter scenarios. The Mighty. Retrieved June 17, 2022 from https://themighty.com/2018/03/active-shooter-disability/
iv Carbello, K. and Cervantes, F. (2021, August). No One Left Behind: School Emergency Planning & Students Who Have Disabilities. Arizona Developmental Disabilities Planning Council. Retrieved June 17, 2022 from https://addpc.az.gov/sites/default/files/School%20EOP%20Final%20REV%20Report%208-27-21%20%283%29.pdf
v Cal OES California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services. (2016, September) Active Shooter Awareness Guidance. Cal OES Law Enforcement Branch. Retrieved June 17, 2022 from
https://www.congress.gov/bill/117th-congress/house-bill/7859?q=%7B%22search%22%3A%5B%22actionDate%3A%5C%22117%7C2022-05-19%5C%22+AND+%28billIsReserved%3A%5C%22N%5C%22+OR+type%3A%5C%22AMENDMENT%5 C%22%29%22%2C%22%5C%22117%7C2022-05-19%5C%22%22%5D%7D&s=1&r=51
viii Minnesota Department of Public Safety Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. (2011) Comprehensive School Safety Guide. Retrieved June 17, 2022 from
https://dps.mn.gov/divisions/hsem/mn-school-safety-center/Documents/Comprehensive%20School%20Safety%20Guide.pdf
ix Ibid.
x Ibid.