TEXAS – For more than a decade, Texas has allowed teachers and other school employees to carry weapons on campus.
First, came the guardian program in 2007, followed by the more stringent school marshal program in 2013.
Many rural districts embraced these programs due to a lack of law enforcement in their areas creating lengthy response times.
The Texas Commission on Law Enforcement oversees the marshal program, which requires designees to undergo 80 hours of training and pass a psychological exam.
According to TCOLE’s Gretchen Grigsby, there are currently 256 school marshals operating in 62 school districts. The Texas Education Agency reports there are 1,204 districts in the state, including 183 charter operations.
The requirements for the guardian program are decided by individual school boards, and, according to Theresa Gage with the Texas Association of School Boards, 389 districts allow the guardian program.
A 2017-2020 audit by the Texas School Safety Center shows of out of 1,022 districts surveyed, 41% reported contracting with local law enforcement to help patrol campuses, and 32% reported employing their own law enforcement officers.
“We already expect teachers to do too much and play too many roles,” said Zeph Capo, president of the Texas American Federation of Teachers.
Texas AFT represents 66,000 teachers, and Capo is pushing back against calls for more armed staff. According to an AFT survey of 5,100 Texas school employees, teachers and community leaders conducted after the Robb elementary school shootings, 77% responded they do not want to be armed.
“Our teachers are saying absolutely not when it comes to being a police officer (and) when it comes to being armed on campus,” said Capo.
Capo said help is needed in the areas of implementing safety procedures that help educators better identify and manage potential threats.
Following the mass shooting at Santa Fe High School, legislators passed Senate Bill 11. This bill requires campuses to conduct behavioral threat assessments and develop multi-hazard emergency operation plans.
“I think most ISDs are in a place right now where they’re fine-tuning their process,” said Brian Clason, program manager for training and education at the School Safety Center.
Clason said while the law requires districts to have these plans, many districts are struggling with the best way to implement these plans.
“The law doesn’t go anywhere after that, in how you operationalize it and how you work,” said Clason. “That’s really, I think, where we saw maybe a little stagnation, a little lag in, it’s kind of working, it’s kind of not.”
Clason said more districts are now undergoing training in how to put these plans into action, but there is a lot of work left to do. The School Safety Center audit showed only 200 districts had a viable active shooter policy in place. The center is currently in the midst of conducting another audit and Clason stresses many districts have made improvements in safety since Santa Fe.
“The training is out there, we’re starting to have conversations with ISDs on how to operationalize their teams to be more efficient, to be more proactive, to be more effective,” said Clason.
Governor Greg Abbott recently instructed the State’s Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training Center, ALERRT, to provide active shooter training to every school district in the state. When we asked officials at ALERRT how long it will take to bring this training to every district, we did not get a response.