School safety in Texas: An inside look at the Texas School Marshal program

HOUSTON – Arming school officials to keep students safe.  This is the mission of Texas’ School Marshal Program.  State officials report an uptick in interest in the program since Uvalde.

School personnel being armed and licensed to carry has been a hot-button topic for quite some time.

Texas Commission on Law Enforcement has a licensing program to authorize school employees to carry a firearm on school campus.

Before 19 students and two teachers were gunned down at Robb Elementary in Uvalde; eight students and two teachers were shot and killed inside Santa Fe High School 45 minutes outside of Houston.

In 2013, Texas lawmakers created the school marshal program, in response to the carnage at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut where 20 students and six educators were murdered.

Texas Commission on Law Enforcement’s School Marshal Program is a licensing program that authorizes school employees to carry a firearm on school campus.

Cullen Grissom is deputy chief of Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Deputy Chief.  “The number one objective of a marshal is to intervene in the event someone is trying to cause some serious bodily injury or death on a school campus.  So, they have a very narrow bandwidth of authority to intervene, specifically in the case of an active shooter or attacker on campus, that really is the marshals’ role.”

TCOLE regulates the School Marshal Program in public school districts, charter schools, public two-year junior colleges, and private schools.

“The school district has to sign on to the program first, said Grissom. “The school district will then identify those employees they wish to train, the individual employees must currently have a Texas license to carry a handgun at which time they can identify them to us and we will work them into one of the training events for licensure. 

Grissom said individual employees have to pass a psychological exam and pass 80 hours of training. 

“An individual cannot seek marshal licensure; it has to come through a school district that governing body has approved the program.  Once the training is completed and the license exam is passed the school has the ability to appoint them at which they are authorized they are to operate on the school campuses armed, as an armed employee,” he said.

The initial 80-hour training is good for two years.  The marshal then goes into a two-year recurring training cycle in which each marshal will complete 16 hours of renewal training.

“We have some people who came to the training, realized this role doesn’t fit them and they remove themselves.  They don’t see themselves fitting the role.  This is an option that affords a school district a known level of training.  It is an occupational license regulated by the state of Texas.  We think it is a good option, should a district choose to arm their personnel.” Grissom said.

I asked Grissom if the School Marshal Program has saved lives.  Grissom said, “There’s no data to date a school marshal from stopping an active shooter, it’s hard to quantify because school marshals have not had to engage.”

Currently, the School Marshal Program has 246 licensed school marshals throughout 64 districts across the state.

“We have seen the growth, we saw a spike as you can imagine after the Santa Fe High School incident years ago and we have seen some growth since Uvalde,”  Grissom explained. “We have added 11 new districts to the program this summer and trained 75 new marshal candidates.  I have a grandchild in school, and I would not object to this program being implemented at this school where she attends.”

A parent or guardian can find out if your school district participates in the school marshal program by writing to the district.  The school is only obligated to give them a yes or no answer.  According to the state, Marshals do NOT replace district police departments or other law enforcement officers assigned to school campuses.  They work together to intercept threats.  Grissom said school marshals’ weapons are concealed but are readily accessible.

Jackie Anderson, president of the Houston Federation of Teachers said in a statement:

“Teachers are not and should not be armed with guns in classrooms. Our jobs are to teach students. We should not be expected to become guards for students’ safety. Incidentally, those who don’t trust to teach the truth, now want to arm us with guns.”

Huffman ISD brings in police department

Tucked away in northeast Harris County, the unincorporated community of Huffman.  At the heart of its community, like most, education – is Huffman Independent School District.

David Williams is chief of police at Huffman ISD.  “The district is about 54 square miles geographically.  Has about 36-37 hundred students and about 500 to 600 faculty members and staff.  On four campuses right now, but we are growing very fast.”

Huffman ISD’s police department was officially formed on June 6, 2022.

“It means we have embedded with the district, we have police officers, and all of those police officers have full law enforcement authority like all police officers across the state,” said Williams.

In the event of an active shooter incident, all hands on deck would be required and due to the remoteness of the district, there are concerns.

“So, response times may or may not be delayed depending on where those other officers are in the past.”  Explained Williams.  “So part of the rationale behind the school marshal program was to have something in place, someone in place at all the campuses to formulate an immediate response to an active shooter scenario.  Once a marshal has been activated in an active shooter situation, the idea is to immediately neutralize that threat.”

Huffman ISD has signs up outside its school.

“It’s just to put a warning out there to let the community know we are absolutely serious about protecting our students and supporting that educational process.  And we are going to do whatever it takes to keep our students and faculty safe,” Williams explained.  “I can tell you that we have a very robust school marshal program, and they act in concert with our assigned police officers at each campus.”

Williams said the best Marshal Program is one you never have to use.

“And so to that point, Huffman ISD has done a really good job at providing social and emotional resources and counselors for those students who might need help.  So we try to reach out to those people and intervene before it becomes a problem to begin with.”

The Marshal Program has never been activated at Huffman ISD or any other district that utilizes the program throughout the state.

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