$20M grant approved to help Texas school districts pay for staff's panic buttons

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Saturday, February 18, 2023
New house bill would require panic buttons at every TX school district
State Representative Shawn Thierry is working to get House Bill 669 passed, which would require Texas school districts to have panic alarms.

AUSTIN, Texas (KTRK) -- Education is a top issue for lawmakers in Austin this legislative session, and part of that is school safety. One local representative is pushing a law that would put an extra layer of security in every classroom in Texas.

Texas has 6 million students in 1,200 districts. Every one of them is a potential target.

In Willis ISD, every staff member on every campus is armed with a panic button on their cell phones, used to react instantly if and when there is a life-threatening emergency.

Since 2018, they have used the Rave Panic application. Willis ISD Superintendent Tim Harkrider called it one of their security tools.

"We evaluate what's working, what's not working. It's a daily conversation," Harkrider said. "It (the app) caught my attention, number one, because it's an app. Everybody has a cell phone, so the connection was pretty seamless."

Willis is not the only district using panic alarms, but State Representative Shawn Thierry of Houston said she wants them in every classroom across the state.

SEE RELATED STORY: Montgomery Co. schools to roll out panic button in wake of deadly Uvalde shooting

"It's software that allows teachers, students, faculty, in the event of an active shooter, or any other emergency, to immediately communicate with first responders," Thierry told ABC13.

She has introduced House Bill 669 which would require panic alarms in some form. She's already secured a $20 million grant to help districts pay for it.

"Everyone now sees the importance of school safety," Thierry said. "We cannot continue to kick the can down the road."

She has bipartisan support. Senate Bill 838 is its companion, and the chair of the Senate's education committee, Republican Brandon Creighton, backs Thierry's efforts.

"I think school safety would be at the top of the list for many of the members," Creighton said. "Most of the members would be at the top of the list without a doubt."

It certainly is a priority for Tim Harkrider and his district.

"I hope we pay for this for the next 100 years and never have to use it," Harkrider said. "We have got to be ready to protect our staff members and kids when something terrible does happen."

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