Should Texas’ state government enforce school “threat assessment teams” with the subjective power to place “referred” children on a permanent database? 

The state’s Public Education Committee is set to finally host its first meeting on Tuesday. The committee will hear testimony on proposed laws including controversial House Bill 759.

In 2019, the Legislature approved threat assessment teams with the passage of SB 11. If passed, HB 759 will create criteria for the threat assessment teams handling students who have been referred for potential violence to themselves or others.

After a student has been referred for an incident, HB 579 gives the school 30 days to list students in the database.

The proposed law would add those students’ names to a database stored by the Texas Education Agency. An entry to the database would be part of the student’s cumulative record. That database will be available to school administrators and school police officers or school resource officers in all public, charter, and private schools.

Some possible incidents that would lead to students being placed on the database are “harmful, threatening, or violent behavior” such as verbal threats, threats of self-harm, bullying, cyberbullying, fighting, the use or possession of a weapon, sexual assault, sexual harassment, dating violence, stalking.

But the definition of behaviors such as “verbal threats” remains subjective, such as the time a junior in high school had a butter knife in his truck bed from moving boxes. The student was suspended. Would he go on the database?

Notably, the bill does not give parents a right to the database information. 

Though the legislation has a clause making the improper or illegal release of information a Class B misdemeanor, it does not address FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy), raising questions of whether it violates the federal law that protects parental access to their student’s records. 

The bill’s author, State Rep. Sam Harless (R–Spring), stated, “We’re just trying to keep our children and educators safe in school.” 

However, North Texas parent Kris Kittle has questions about the bill.

“My main concern is privacy and the lasting implications of being on the list,” she said. “What if a student has a change of heart or their behavior is better? Will they never have a second chance?” 

Kittle also raised concerns about the “possible inconsistent policies between public, charter, and private schools” and the “zero-tolerance” policies.  

“I also can’t help but think of the zero-tolerance policies that have been [illogically] applied … like the kindergartener who brought a play gun to school and [got] suspended,” Kittle said. “Will they potentially be on this database?”

The House Public Education Committee will convene at 9:00 a.m. on Tuesday, March 9. Concerned citizens may submit their thoughts and feedback to the committee here.

Tera Collum

Tera Collum has 13 years experience as a government and economics teacher in Texas public schools. She recently was the director of The Travis Institute of Educational Policy and Teachers for Texas.