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Texas behind in random school intruder detection audits

Halfway through the school year, state inspectors have only completed about 1,000 of 6,000 campus inspections.

HOUSTON — After the mass shooting at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Gov. Greg Abbott ordered surprise inspections at Texas schools to identify security weak points on campus. But halfway through the school year, the state is behind in doing those checks.

They’re called random intruder detection audits. Trained state inspectors make unannounced campus visits to test exterior doors and see if they can gain unauthorized access.

“We know that a locked door creates a time barrier and time barriers save lives for enough time for first responders to come in and intervene,” said Kathy Martinez-Prather, director of the Texas School Safety Center at Texas State University. “Something as basic as locking your door needs to be embedded every single day."

It was an unsecured door at Robb Elementary that allowed the mass shooter unfettered access. After the tragedy, Abbott sent a letter to Martinez-Prather, directing her agency to implement the random audit program.

By the end of May, it's supposed to touch 100% of school districts and 75% of campuses across the state -- about 6,000 school buildings in all. But Martinez Prather said only about 1,000 intruder detection audits have been done to date.

KHOU: “The math doesn’t work out for you to cross the finish line.”

Martinez-Prather: "So it just, it’s going to depend ... if we have to pick up the number of intruder detection audits we're doing across the state, we're closely monitoring on a weekly basis to make sure that we meet that goal.”

The slow pace so far has caught the eye of at least one Texas lawmaker.

“I guarantee there’s going to be hearings with the director there, we’re going to measure exactly their progress,” said Sen. Paul Bettencourt, a Houston Republican and longstanding member of the Senate Committee on Education. “We’re going to talk about the resources that are needed, and we’re going to make sure the process works because it just simply has to."

As for the 1,000 intruder audit inspections already done, the Texas School Safety Center said about 30% of school districts had negative findings. Those may include unauthorized access, poor visitor check-in/check-out procedures, or a school’s failure to do weekly door sweeps on its own.

KHOU: “30% of campuses that were visited had some sort of failure?”

Martinez-Prather: “I wouldn’t call it a failure.”

KHOU: “What would you call it?”

Martinez-Prather: “I would call it opportunities to improve your safety and security posture.”

KHOU: “That sounds like official speak.”

Martinez-Prather: “Well I would say it’s not, I say the intent of this not an 'I gotcha.' The intent of this is to help school districts improve their safety and security, that’s what we all want.”

The Texas School Safety Center requires districts to disclose general information about negative findings and corrective actions taken in a public board meeting. But in the Houston area, several districts were not that transparent and discussed intruder detection audits in executive sessions behind closed doors.

KHOU 11 Investigates followed up with the 20 largest Houston-area districts to determine the number of audits completed and negative findings.

The Texas School Safety Center said it plans to release an interim report on its progress early next week, but that will only include aggregate information. KHOU 11 Investigates requested a list of district-level findings for all school districts in Region 4 of the Texas Education Agency, which serves Harris and six surrounding counties. The agency has yet to produce that list.

Watch more of the interview with Martinez-Prather in the video below.

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