By Kevin Lungwitz

A new school year is a great time to reset, build on the successes of last year, and reflect on areas for growth. Here are a few items to keep in mind.

School Security
A new school safety law was signed into law on June 13, 2023. Known as House Bill 3, the primary feature is the requirement for every campus to have at least one armed guard on site. The guard may be law enforcement or armed school personnel. A school district may apply for an exemption if they lack funding or personnel but must submit an alternate plan. It is this author’s opinion that the school district may not unilaterally direct an employee to be an armed guardian.

HB 3 allocates $15,000 per campus for additional security measures. As a campus administrator, you should know the condition of all the exterior doors in your school. If doors do not automatically click shut after use, document your demand that the district repair the door immediately. If these doors are emergency exits only, make sure there is a properly working alarm. Do you have an operational exterior fence? What about functioning communication tools and panic buttons in every classroom (now required by the passage of Senate Bill 838)? Are there surveillance issues you should consider?

There are thousands of campuses in this state, and each one is different. Engage your staff at an in-service. They will know the weak links in campus security you may not have thought of. Once you have comprehensively thought about these issues, figure out how you will recommend the usage of $15,000 to spend toward these items.

Also, on May 31, 2023, the TEA passed new, comprehensive school safety requirements. Title 19 Tex. Admin. Code Sec. 61.1031. Many of the items above are addressed, including a requirement that the district conduct a weekly inspection and certification of all exterior doors and report the findings to the principal.1 You should review the new TEA rules and your school board’s new safety policy when it is adopted (probably in the Policy CK area).

Parent Pick-Ups, Drop-Offs
Parent pick-up and drop-of times are chaos magnets unless there is an orderly plan. You must engage staff about this plan, understand how plan works, and clearly communicate the plan to parents, especially if you are a new campus administrator. Whether it is your plan or not, you will be held responsible if it is a hot mess.

For office pick-ups and drop-offs, make sure your front office staff knows how to use the background check (Raptor) system. Unless modified by a court order, both parents may check a student in and out of school. What about nonparents? When a nonparent picks up a child from school, school personnel must check the most recent authorization form or the most recent court order for the nonparent’s name. Train your staff to not release a student to an unauthorized person and to immediately ask for assistance from administration if there is any question.

CPS Reporting
The beginning of the school year is a great time to remind all professional staff and classroom aides of their individual duty to report suspected child abuse or neglect within 48 hours. A staffer may not delegate that duty to anyone else, no matter the age or position of the staffer (e.g., aides must be assured they will not suffer retaliation for reporting a higher ranking staffer.) Likewise, if you should become aware of suspected abuse or neglect, you should also make the report unless you were present when it was reported. A good rule is, “When in doubt, make a report.” While that is not the legal standard, it seems to be the practical application used by CPS. If you are unsure whether to report, call CPS and let CPS give you further guidance.

Staff Handbooks and Evaluations
Whether you are using T-TESS or a locally adopted instrument, look at your district’s versions of policies DN, DNA, and DNB to review evaluation timelines and requirements. This is the time of year to let your teachers know what is expected, hold required formative conferences, and post the evaluation calendar for all to see. With T-TESS, an administrative blunder could mean an invalidation of the teacher’s evaluation, should an objection be raised. Make sure your administrative team knows its assignments in this regard.

Also, make sure staff, especially new staff, knows how to access all school board policies (Hint: Go to the district’s website and look under the school board tab.) Since few want to read the entire policy manual, confirm everyone knows how to find the employee handbook which is a handy reference guide to so many important personnel matters.

Student and Staff Confidentiality
Another good topic for an in-service meeting is student and staff confidentiality. “Educational records” directly related to a student and maintained by an educational institution are confidential. Even among professional staff, only those with a “legitimate educational interest” have a right to review such records. Meaning, every teacher is not entitled to see every student’s records. A school district and campus should ensure that physical and technological barriers exist to prevent access to student records, except to those who have an expressed, job-related need. Consult board policy FL (legal and local) for more information.

Professional staff evaluations, including yours, are confidential and shall not be shared beyond other employees with a professional need to know.2 This rule also applies to write-ups, reprimands and the like, meaning the local newspaper (remember those?) or the angry parent cannot gain access to these documents. However, a prospective school district to which the employee has applied for employment, may ask for and shall receive, the educator’s formal evaluations.

This article is by no means close to exhausting the important topics you need to address at the beginning of the school year, but it is a start. Here is to great beginnings and a super successful 2023-24 school year.

Kevin Lungwitz practices law in Austin and is a former Chair of the School Law Section of the State Bar of Texas.


1119 Tex. Admin. Code. Sec. 61.1031(d)(1)(C).
2Texas Education Code Sec. 21.355

TEPSA News, August 2023, Vol 80, No 4

Copyright © 2023 by the Texas Elementary Principals and Supervisors Association. No part of articles in TEPSA publications or on the website may be reproduced in any medium without the permission of the Texas Elementary Principals and Supervisors Association.

Note: Information from Legal Ease is believed to be correct upon publication but is not warranted and should not be considered legal advice. Please contact TEPSA or your school district attorney before taking any legal action, as specific facts or circumstances may cause a different legal outcome.

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