School officer training is critical for success

HELEN GIDDINGS and JAMES WHITE | 6/29/2015, 12:47 a.m.
While many issues divided legislators along ideological lines this session, there was one important issue where we all stood united: ...

Texas House of Representatives

While many issues divided legislators along ideological lines this session, there was one important issue where we all stood united: That Texas’ children deserve the best educational environment in order to promote their success. First and foremost, it is our responsibility to ensure that Texas schools are trusted and secure spaces. With that accomplished, students can focus on learning and achieving their goals. For that reason, we are proud to support House Bill 2684, which provides valuable tools and specialized training for school police officers. This bill passed through the House and Senate with bipartisan support and now awaits the signature of Gov. Abbott.

House Bill 2684 directs school districts serving more than 30,000 students to adopt a policy regarding the education and training of school police officers. If the bill is signed into law, these hard-working officers who interact with over two million Texas children every day will have access to courses on de-escalation techniques, the needs of students with disabilities, child and adolescent development, mental health crisis intervention, and positive behavioral interventions and supports.

School policing is a specialized area of law enforcement. The skills needed to serve children in schools are different than those needed to work with adults in other settings, and it is important that a school police officer’s education be inclusive of the population they serve most. Without this training, many school police officers will not have the support they need to effectively address the unique needs of students and avoid interactions that can make the learning environment unstable, unproductive and less safe. Far too many recent headlines highlight poor youth-police interactions that escalated and became dangerous, and HB 2684 is a proactive step towards preventing those interactions from being an impediment to the education of our vulnerable schoolchildren.

Police officers in schools are already required to complete general training courses as part of their continuing education requirements so that they receive the benefit of the most up-to-date policing practices. HB 2684 simply ensures that some of those hours are devoted to training that is specific to the needs and development of children.

While HB 2684 only requires training for officers in school districts serving student populations greater than 30,000, we urge smaller districts to take advantage of the important tools that may soon be available. Every Texas school district will have access to the curriculum developed by the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement should HB 2684 become law. Students and officers in all districts – large, small, urban and rural – can benefit from these resources.

We are so proud to support legislation that fosters a supportive educational environment, ensures the safety of children, and provides school police officers the tools they need to do their jobs safely and effectively. We join our voices as a symbol of the bipartisan support that moved HB 2684 through the legislature and to the governor’s desk. With Abbott’s signature, Texas will take an important step to help guarantee the safety and success of millions of our children.

Rep. Helen Giddings is a Democratic member of the Texas House of Representatives for District 109, which includes Cedar Hill, DeSoto, Lancaster, Wilmer, Hutchins and portions of Glenn Heights and Oak Cliff. She can be reached through 972-224-6795.

James White is a Republican member of the Texas House of Representatives for District 19, which encompasses Polk, Hardin, Jasper, Newton and Tyler counties. He can be reached through 409-283-3700.