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Senator Would Fund Mental Health Training for Teachers

State Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, on Thursday filed the latest in a slew of proposals aimed at improving school safety. His bill would provide state funds to train Texas teachers to recognize and respond to mental illnesses.

by Maurice Chammah, The Marshall Project
Sen. Charles Schwertner R-Georgetown, at a February Texas Tribune event.

State Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, filed legislation Thursday that would provide mental health training to Texas teachers.

The latest in a series of proposals at the Legislature aimed at improving school safety in the wake of the school shooting in Newtown, Conn.,  it focuses on mental health rather than beefing up securitySenate Bill 955, coauthored by several state senators, would provide state funds for Mental Health First Aid training to Texas teachers who volunteer.

"This bill will help Texas teachers recognize the warning signs for a variety of serious mental illnesses and teach them how to work with parents to coordinate the help and care these children need in order to live better, more fulfilling lives,” Schwertner said in a statement.

The voluntary training program would last 12 hours and provide instruction for recognizing and responding to mental illnesses like depression, trauma, bipolar disorder, psychosis and severe anxiety. The Senate Finance Committee would have to approve funding for the Department of Health and Human Services budget to fund the program. The agency would provide grants to local mental health authorities, which would train local teachers. Local authorities would receive money based on how many teachers they train.

Other proposals to improve school safety floated by lawmakers this session include: state funding to train select school employees to carry concealed handguns; penalties for school districts whose state-mandated safety plans are out of compliance; a program modeled on the federal air marshals that would permit districts to deputize employees to use firearms as a last line of defense during an attack; and requiring electronic emergency alarms at school campuses to notify police in the event of an emergency.

The Senate held a hearing on school safety in January after the chairmen of the Finance and Criminal Justice committees announced they would push to allow school districts to raise local taxes to pay for security measures. In testimony, Texas Education Agency general counsel David Anderson said that state law could be ambiguous when it comes to school safety policies.

“Obviously, some school districts read the penal code provision as saying, if some of our teachers with concealed handgun permits happen to bring them to school, that’s okay. But another provision in the educational code says here’s how you create a police force,” Anderson said. “Those two don’t mesh real well. That’s probably a good thing to clarify.” 

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