The Dallas Morning News. Aug. 14, 2018.

With students preparing for a new academic year, let’s ask a very unacademic question: Are our schools taking crucial steps within their power to spot a student who poses a credible threat of mass violence and then act before it is too late? To be more specific, out of the 1,000 school districts in the state, how many have teams in place to identify and intervene at a critical juncture?

The good news is that the answer is approximately 800. But the bad news, according to the Texas School Safety Center at Texas State University, is that the state doesn’t have a uniform standard for how such teams should screen potentially dangerous students and doesn’t have an agency dedicated to checking the validity of the information districts self-report about the teams they do have in place.

The result: Texas has a lot of work to do in both supporting districts in creating such teams and in holding districts accountable for their performance.

If you are unfamiliar with the work of such teams, consider a little history. Shortly after the Columbine High School massacre shocked the nation in 1999, the Department of Education and the U.S. Secret Service compiled sophisticated threat assessment templates for districts to follow. The idea was for campuses to have a principal or assistant principal, a law enforcement officer, trained school counselors and psychologists in place to work to collectively determine the severity of threats.

This work has allowed districts to better identify and treat students with mental health problems and anger issues, experts say. Such training costs money, however, so not every district can afford to dive deeply into this work.

This matters because experts have a rough sense that maybe 5 percent of students who might look problematic on the surface actually are. But finding that 5 percent is hard. To help with that, Virginia now requires an annual audit of K-12 school safety issues. Such an audit would help Texas, too.

Wisely, Gov. Greg Abbott’s school safety plan, instituted after the shooting massacre at Santa Fe High School near Houston in May, begins to address some of these issues. The Texas School Safety Center this summer rushed to train districts to create intervention teams.

The training, which follows the Department of Education and Secret Service guidelines, includes role-playing exercises to walk district officials through the threat assessment process. Districts also learn techniques to proactively screen students for anxiety, depression, loneliness, isolation and violent tendencies.

The Legislature next year should expand this program, increase access to behavioral health services and compile the detailed data that school districts need to make smart, evidence-based improvements to safety best practices. It should also mandate that every district create a threat assessment team and task a state agency with verifying that the work is being done. Such steps constitute the hard but mundane work necessary to protect our schoolchildren.

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Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. Aug. 12, 2018.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

— First Amendment to the United States Constitution

Break down the First Amendment.

What is its purpose — in pure and simple form? The goal is to limit the power of government (or in the case of the founding fathers - an oppressive monarchy) by specifically listing rights that keep government at bay.

It is not a coincidence that the third right the founding fathers listed was a press free of government authority and rule.

And why is this? Because a free press is the primary way to keep government at all levels accountable to the people.

In the case of newspapers, and especially in the case of Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, a free press is a cherished right. And the exercise of this right is a daily responsibility that we strive to uphold.

And there is no political catch-phrase that detracts from this vital objective.

The phrase “enemy of the people” to describe the press in this country has become the latest political catch-phrase.

Let us get past the political rhetoric to reality.

The reason this phrase has become hip is because the president used it — and he has since clarified his remarks to indicate it was not an indictment of media as a whole. However, the president has continued to use this phrase.

One of the reasons for the political divide in this country today is a far too simplistic view of things — including media.

For example — does Fox News lean to the right? Yes. Does CNN/MSNBC lean to the left? Yes. And people are quick to pile on these news/entertainment entities for their political leanings.

However, the problem is we have allowed opinions of national media (and their practice of mixing opinion with “breaking news”) to permeate into local media, and this is inaccurate and unfair in both cases. And this can detract from the invaluable role that local newspapers play in their communities.

For example, local newspaper reporters are not thinking of tweets from the president when they report on the details of a city budget. Local newspaper reporters are not worried about Hillary Clinton when they cover a local government scandal.

There are segments of media with a political agenda — which is obvious. However, this is what comes with a free press. This reality does not mean that media is a “enemy of the people.”

Think of the alternative — which would be the government determining what citizens should know, and what they should not know. Frightening.

A free press is an “enemy of the people?” Hardly. A free press protects and maintains the foundation of this republic.

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