AUSTIN (KXAN) – In the wake of school shootings across the country, including the most recent tragedy in Parkland, Florida, districts across the nation are working to increase safety and security measures on school campuses — and the idea of arming school employees is gaining a lot of attention from the White House.
In expressing his support for arming teachers, during a meeting with governors Monday, President Donald Trump called on Gov. Greg Abbott, to talk about the state’s marshal program.
Gov. Abbott said Texas now has well over 100 school districts where teachers or school staff members carry a weapon and are trained to be able to respond to an attack on campus.
“Now, it’s not always a schoolteacher. It could be a coach, it could be an administrator, it could be anybody who works in that school. But it’s a well-thought-out program with a lot of training in advance. And, candidly, some school districts, they promote it. Because they will have signs out front – a warning sign: ‘Be aware, there are armed personnel on campus’ – warning anybody coming on there that they – if they attempt to cause any harm, they’re going to be in trouble,” Gov. Abbott said.
In Texas, the school marshal law — legislation that passed shortly after a shooter killed 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut — created another way for schools to bring down a gunman. The law went into effect immediately after it was passed in June 2013.
State Rep. Jason Villalba, R-Dallas, authored the school marshal legislation. The lawmaker told KXAN Tuesday he is hopeful the program will continue to expand as an option to keep students safe in Texas schools.
School districts can send an employee who already has a concealed handgun license to the state’s school marshal academy. They become state licensed school marshals, but their identity is kept confidential.
In West Texas, there’s a lot of support for the school marshal program. Wylie Independent School District and Abilene Independent School District both have armed marshals.
“The last line of defense when you have somebody that is in a mental state where they have mass murder on their mind — whether they’re mentally unstable, or they are a violent criminal — is the school security, and that should include anything a local school district deems necessary and appropriate,” said U.S. Rep. Jodey Arrington, R-Lubbock. “I believe that part of that security measure should include teachers, and administrators and coaches, who are trained and licensed to carry. I think that it gives great peace of mind to our communities and our families and I think it’s something that could be shared as a best practice for other states.”
Although school marshals are arguably a cheaper option for districts, marshals won’t be found on campuses in a number of Central Texas school districts.
“A teacher with a pistol is no match for a deranged person with a military assault rifle. I don’t think that our teachers should be focused on shooting people. They need to be focused on teaching our young people to achieve their full, God-given potential,” explained Congressman Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin. “Teachers don’t want this authority. The only reason that there’s so much focus on arming teachers is because we have elected officials here in Washington and at the state capitol who don’t want to fulfill their own responsibility of doing something about the dangers of guns.”
Many area high schools and middle schools have school resource officers or SROs. These are police officers or county deputies who are armed at all times on campuses, and are specifically trained to respond to an active shooter situation. These officers are on patrol at schools.
Round Rock ISD utilizes school resource officers. RRISD contracts with the Round Rock Police Department and the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office to provide the officers. Hays ISD also uses SROs. The district says they have never used school marshals.
The Llano Independent School District hired its first SRO in October 2017.
Austin ISD has its own police force. Rep. Doggett says he applauds the district’s police department. It provides the same security law enforcement officers do.
“We need to be prepared for these situations. We just need to look to professional law enforcement to deal with armed, deranged individuals, rather than expecting that suddenly our teachers can do the job,” added Doggett.