Some Texas schools scramble to adjust to new rule requiring armed personnel on campuses

A new law has some public schools turning to armed teachers or staff as part of safety measures passed in the wake of Uvalde.

Journey Jones, 10, was back-to-school shopping with his mom this summer when he asked for a bulletproof backpack to protect him in case of a shooting.

“It could happen anytime,” he said.

His mom, MaryAnn Jones, has five kids set to attend school in Lovejoy. However, safety concerns had Jones and her wife considering not putting their 5-year-old triplets into elementary school at the district. They ultimately did.


Jones, a former police officer, does not like that Lovejoy ISD utilizes a school marshal program that allows campus staffers to be armed. Anyone can carry a gun in hand, she said, but training and experience is necessary when it comes to using it.

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MaryAnn Jones (left) holds hands with her wife Jessica Jones as they sit for a portrait with their children (from left) Creed, 5, Lyn, 15, Journey, 10, Walker, 5, Ari, 16, and Legend, 5, at their home, Friday, July 14, 2023 in Allen, Texas.(Elías Valverde II / Staff Photographer)

“What happens if they are mishandling the firearm? Or it gets in the student’s hand?” she said. “Accidents happen.”


More Texas teachers, administrators and others outside of law enforcement will be carrying guns when school starts this month because a new state law requires armed personnel on every public campus starting Sept. 1. The change represents legislators’ most significant response to last year’s Uvalde massacre, where 19 children and two teachers were killed at Robb Elementary.

A nationwide police shortage and lack of significant new funding has schools across Texas struggling to hire additional staff to protect campuses that don’t already have school resource officers, namely elementaries.

To meet the new law, more Texas districts are considering teachers and other employees to be school marshals or guardians, which allow staff to be armed.


Plano administrators acknowledged at a recent July board meeting that “fully trained, on-duty police officers” are the best option. However, at a $3 million cost, it’s not feasible to hire what the district needs to cover the 49 campuses. So they recommended the marshal program as a “strong option.”

If the district used school marshals, it would join with other Collin County districts, including Princeton and Lovejoy.

Across Texas, there were 34 school marshals in 2018, the same year of the deadly Santa Fe High School shooting. That number grew to 256 marshals across 62 districts as of May 2022, after new state grants and a law lifting the cap on marshals.

Now, the state has 318 registered school marshals across 77 districts and has seen an uptick in interest since the new legislation, said Gretchen Grigsby, director of government relations for the Texas Commission On Law Enforcement.

Some districts are still hoping to meet the law with dedicated security staff.

Mark Quinn, Garland ISD’s director of security, knows he’s in a competitive market as he seeks to fill 40 armed security positions for elementary schools. Those staffers and other additional safety measures will cost the district $1.5 million.

“We, along with probably every other school district in the state, are going to be scrambling trying to hire armed officers,” he said.

Texas school marshals and guardians

The screens showed an empty school hallway and a campus library as two men stood ready to react.


A loud scream. A few shots fired. The men whipped out guns and pointed them to the simulation screen.

“School marshal!” one of them yelled with a booming voice. “Don’t shoot! School marshal!”

Thirteen men and one woman had traveled across Texas in June to participate in the 80-hour school marshal training at Tarrant County College. If they passed, they would be able to bring a weapon with them onto campus.

School marshals must be trained by a law enforcement academy approved by the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement.


Weapon proficiency, campus security, when to use force, how to respond to an active shooter and the history of school shootings are covered.

Marshals must have a license to carry, pass a psychological exam and complete a 16-hour course every two years after their initial training.

At this summer’s training, candidates practiced knowing when to shoot and when not to shoot in an active shooter scenario. They rehearsed busting/prying open doors with sledgehammers to breach classrooms.

Watch: School officials take Texas School Marshal licensing course to arm themselves on campus
Under the instruction from TCC Law Enforcement Academy training coordinator Rafael Perea, school staff learn how to respond to an active shooter (Tom Fox)

David Vincent normally works as director of technology for Princeton ISD. He volunteered to be a school marshal in the Collin County district because he hopes to be a deterrent to potential shooters.

“This can make it safer, but you can’t make it 100% safe,” he said.

School marshals can remain anonymous under state law, though Princeton lists most of its marshals on the district website. Those staffers wear uniforms for added visibility, schools spokesperson Jean Ann Collins said.

Students don’t differentiate between police officers and marshals, Collins said.


“To them, it’s all just somebody there to keep me safe,” she added.

The district of nearly 8,000 students has used marshals since 2018, when the city police department had staffing shortages, Collins said. After Uvalde, Princeton school trustees voted to have at least one armed marshal at each of its 12 campuses in addition to a few school resource officers.

Cities nationwide report struggles with recruiting and retaining officers because of burnout, difficulties of the job and changing public perception of police. In Dallas, the police department recruited 50 fewer officers and lost about 30 more to attrition than they wanted during the last fiscal year.

Besides the marshal program, districts are turning to private companies for help to hire outside security officers. Earlier this week, Allen trustees approved contracting with a firm for 17 security officers to staff its elementary campuses and early childhood school.


Some districts are using private companies to arm existing staff through the state’s guardian program in which an employee can undergo a 16-hour active-shooter response training from a licensed Texas Department of Public Safety instructor.

Texas doesn’t have numbers on how many school staffers are guardians, but research from a 2020 Texas School Safety Center report found at least 280 school districts opted into that plan.

Security company Cinco Peso trains school employees as “defenders” through the guardian plan. Cinco Peso co-founder Brad Oliver, a retired master peace officer, said he’s worked with at least 50 school districts that use “defenders.”

With more reaching out in recent weeks, he expects that number to rise above 60. His company’s training is booked up through the spring, he said.


Brad Merritt, Pilot Point ISD’s police chief, said his district opted for the guardian plan over the marshal program because training spots are limited.

Only two institutions besides Tarrant County College offer marshal training — one through the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service and another at the West Texas Central Council of Governments. Four additional training sites will be offered soon, said Grigsby, the Texas Commission On Law Enforcement spokesperson.

More than 30 school staff receive a stipend to be defenders across Pilot Point’s four campuses. While the district does not share the identity of defenders, it makes it well known that teachers are armed, Merritt added.

Concerns from students and advocates

Journey’s sister, Ari Jones, 16, learned a coach she planned to work with this year is a school marshal for Lovejoy. The school district highlights its marshals online.


The thought of being around marshals makes her feel uncomfortable because she is Black, she said. Nearly three-quarters of Lovejoy ISD students are white and only about 3% are Black, which Jones said makes her feel like she stands out.

She is afraid school marshals may view her as more of a threat than other students.

Lovejoy school officials did not respond to requests for comment on their marshals.

Children of color often face harsher discipline consequences at schools, data repeatedly shows. The most recent federal data, for example, showed about 20% of Texas students referred to law enforcement in the 2017-18 school year were Black even though such children made up about 13% of public schools.


Black and Latino students are disproportionately arrested and even assaulted by officers at higher rates, according to a report from the advocacy group Advancement Project. Another study done for Congress by the National Institute of Justice shows police are perceived differently by students depending on their race, although this disparity is smaller for officers in schools.

Almost no research exists about the impact of armed educators or private security companies on campuses, noted Anthony Petrosino, director of WestEd’s Justice and Prevention Research Center, who worked on the institute’s study.

Some education advocacy groups worry about other challenges that may rise from arming educators.

Petrosino said first responders at a school shooting may not be able to distinguish between an un-uniformed school marshal or guardian and a threat.


He also pointed to a January instance where a third-grade student found a Texas superintendent’s gun in a bathroom stall. In March, a Granbury teacher who was a school marshal left a gun unattended in a faculty restroom.

At least 28 other states allow schools to arm their staff. Petrosino said this might be some school districts’ only option.

“Across the country, there’s a real problem with keeping and retaining police for communities, let alone schools,” he said. “Where are you going to get the people, when there’s already an issue?”


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