DALLAS — Talks are underway in Austin to help prevent violence in Texas schools.
Recently-introduced legislation in both the senate and house would require school districts to allow school counselors to do more counseling and less administrative-type duties.
Two bills have been filed this session after a WFAA report in November uncovered a lack of school counselors in districts in Texas and across the country.
The numbers are dismal.
WFAA found that one in five school districts in the United States don’t have any counselors at all, according to an analysis of 2015-2016 Department of Education data (the most recent available).
In North Texas, that number is about one in eight districts. That means 37,291 North Texas students are attending schools without a single counselor to help identify potentially violent behavior.
And counselors that are in place often aren't counseling. Local counselors told WFAA they are often monitoring kids at lunch, in the halls and during tests -- rather than actually counseling.
“What we found is that about a third of the counselor's school year was in non-counseling related activities,” said Dr. Stephanie Cook, Frisco ISD's director of guidance and counseling services.
Last year, Frisco hired 38 new staff members to take on those non-counseling duties and give counselors back time to spend one-on-one with students.
The new legislation, filed by State Rep. Mary Gonzalez (D-Clint) and State Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. (D-Brownsville), wouldn't require new hires, but would mandate resource shifting to free up counselors to do their work.
The bills would require that school counselors spend at least 80 percent of their time on counseling duties.
Frisco ISD said it has already implemented a time-tracking tool that allows counselors to measure how they spend their time to ensure the district would be compliant should the bill pass.
Dallas ISD spokeswoman Robyn Harris on the proposed new law: “In essence, we are already identifying supports for counselors to help with navigating non-counseling duties, should this bill be enacted.”
Fort Worth ISD's Clint Bond: "We would do anything we had to in order to comply with the law."
A similar bill was introduced in 2010 by Sen. Lucio, but didn't pass.
"It was a funding issue and school administrators made the argument that they needed to use counselors in order to support the survival of the schools," said Ernest Cox, the former president of the Texas School Counselor Association.
So, what's different this go around?
Cox said he believes there's more attention on mental health and how it relates to putting a stop to school violence.
"We are at a point where the paradigm has to be shifted," Cox said. "We are seeing a lot of outcries in schools. There is a real need to focus on the emotional connection of students and school counselors are the uniquely qualified individuals who have gone through intense training to address those needs. There's no one else in the school setting who is equipped to get students emotionally connected, academically ready as well as respond on an intervention or crisis level."