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More school districts arming teachers, staff

HOUSTON – More Texas school districts are opting to arm teachers or staff members as a way to increase security on campus.

According to the Texas Association of School Boards, out of the more than 1,000 school districts in Texas, 228 have adopted either guardian or school marshal programs. That number is up from the 172 districts TASB reported at the beginning of 2018.

The guardian program allows districts to craft their own policies and requirements regarding teachers and faculty carrying weapons. The school marshal program requires a psychological evaluation and 80 hours of training by the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement, the same agency that educates and licenses peace officers.

TCOLE officials reported an increased interest in the school marshal program in the wake of recent school shootings. Since 2014, the commission held a total of nine school marshal training sessions. This summer alone, TCOLE held six sessions. There are currently 92 school marshals in Texas, with another 73 in the process of becoming certified.

School districts are not required to publicize emergency and safety plans. The map below is a partial list compiled from district announcements, published reports and district policy records.

Many rural districts have chosen the option of arming staff given lengthy response times by local law enforcement. According to the TASB, 150 independent school districts have their own police departments, with another 250 utilizing full- or part-time school resource officers.

“We just want to be prepared,” said Christoval ISD superintendent Dr. David Walker.

The town of Christoval is a more than six-hour drive northwest of Houston and is situated on the banks of the South Concho River in Tom Green County. Christoval ISD was one of the first districts in the state to adopt a guardian program. CISD’s program was established in January of 2013.

READ: The debate over teachers and guns in Texas

“What did you see that said, 'Yes, we need to move to a program where staff is armed?'” asked Channel 2 Investigator Robert Arnold.

“Well it was very clear we were a soft target,” said Walker.

Walker said the district was already working on improving safety for its 540 students, but the 2012 shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary spurred Christoval to arm teachers and staff.

“Never in my wildest dreams did I think we'd have a guardian program or train with guns,” said Principal John Choate.

Walker said another factor in the decision was a lack of a town police department; the Sheriff's Office covers the area.

“How far away is help?” asked Arnold.

“Help is anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes away,” said Walker.

READ: Senate Select Committee on Violence in Schools and School Security

Christoval's guardian program is voluntary. A person must have a license to carry a gun and receive a minimum of 40 hours of training in multiple scenarios, undergo a psychological evaluation and meet annual qualifications. Walker said those choosing to be part of the program are trained on a variety of target sizes and shooting positions, as well as hostage scenarios.

Christoval ISD goes further than most districts when it comes to arming staff. Teachers and administrators can also be trained on rifles and shotguns. The district even has different distinctions within the program: guardian, protector and defender.

Walker explained guardians handle all three weapons and are responsible for seeking out an attacker on campus. Protectors and defenders are qualified to handle one or two weapons and act defensively in classrooms or other areas of a campus. Walker said shotguns and rifles require extra training and annual qualifications. The number of staff carrying weapons is confidential.

“We have hallways anywhere from 75 to 100 meters, as well as long parking lots,” Walker explained was the reason for deciding to include rifles in the program.

READ: School and Firearm Safety Action Plan

He added shotguns are better in close quarters. The district also uses ammunition that splinters on impact to cut down on the possibility of a shot hitting an unintended target.

Sheriff’s deputy Tommy Williams also regularly teaches a course to district staff on Civilian Response to Active Shooter Events, or CRASE.

“This is the world we live in,” said Williams.

Williams works closely with the district on its program, which includes overseeing walkthroughs by law enforcement and other first responders.

“We know the layout of the school, the police know it, the EMTs know it, who will come from San Angelo,” said Williams. “It helps if the teacher can say, 'He's in the southwest corner of this building,' and the police officer that's responding knows where that is.”

Williams said law enforcement is also familiar with every person who is part of the guardian program in CISD. However, guns are far from the only part of CISD’s program.

Teachers and staff, even those not part of the guardian program, receive emergency first aid training.

“Everyone can do something,” Walker said. “You may not be a guardian or a protector, but you are in charge of kids. The Latin phrase is ‘In Loco Parentis,’ we act in place of the parent. That’s our responsibility.”

CISD keeps a first aid kit in every classroom. These kits are equipped with bandages, tourniquets and other potentially lifesaving equipment. Guardians are given two larger Individual First Aid Kits equipped with a variety of items, including tourniquets, ‘quick-clot’ gauze patches and medical devices to help clear blocked airways or relieve pressure in a person's chest due to injury.

The district then keeps large emergency first aid kits on every campus.

“Those are to treat multiple casualties,” said Walker. “They can be used by us or first responders.”

Walker said those in the guardian program also receive training on how to treat their own injuries in the middle of an attack. Walker said the district added this medical component because medical help, like law enforcement, can be a long way off.

“Until the shooter is disabled and the school cleared, the EMTs are not going to come in,” said Williams.

Walker said he’s received nothing but positive feedback from parents and students about the plan. As Christoval's program evolved, other, more rural districts, took note and asked Walker for guidance when considering creating their own programs.

However, Walker said the most important part of his district's plan has nothing to do with bullets or bandages. He said a critical step in the district’s safety plan is creating an environment where parents, teachers and students feel comfortable reporting a potential problem before it spirals into violence and then addressing the situation with the help a person may need.

“No report is a bad report,” said Walker.

State lawmakers recently issued a laundry list of recommendations for improving school safety statewide. You can read more about these proposals here and here.