Are Texas teachers armed? And what role do school resource officers play in protecting students?

·4 min read
(William Luther | The San Antonio Express-News via AP)

Attorney General Ken Paxton is calling for teachers to be armed after a shooter gunned down 19 children and two adults at a Uvalde elementary school Tuesday, the deadliest school shooting in Texas.

“We can’t stop bad people from doing bad things,” Paxton told Fox News. “We can potentially arm and prepare and train teachers and other administrators to respond quickly. That, in my opinion, is the best answer.”

Other Texas politicians have responded to the shooting by saying that there should be guns carried by school personnel. Sen. Ted Cruz called for armed law enforcement at schools.

”We know from past experience that the most effective tool for keeping kids safe is armed law enforcement on the campus,” Cruz told MSNBC.

How many Texas school districts allow teachers to carry guns?

About 365 school districts in Texas allow staff to carry firearms on school premises. They represent about 36% of the 1,023 independent school districts in Texas.

In 2013, the Texas Legislature passed two methods to authorize employees to carry firearms on school property. Texas school districts are able to opt into: the Guardian Plan and the School Marshal Plan.

The School Marshal Program allows marshals designated by a district to be armed. Since 2013, Texas law has permitted school districts to appoint one or more specially trained and licensed employees as school marshals. Those school marshals can carry a handgun on the school premises after 80 hours of training. School marshals are restricted from carrying concealed firearms if they’re in regular contact with the students. In that case, the marshal can have a gun in a safe at the school. Schools can appoint one marshal per 100 students in average daily attendance, or for a private school, one marshal per 100 students enrolled.

“The board must require that a designated school marshal may carry a concealed handgun on the marshal’s person or in a locked and secured location on the physical premises of a school,” says the Texas Association of School Boards. “A school marshal may access a handgun only under circumstances that would justify the use of deadly force for the safety or protection of others as provided by law, and the marshal may use only frangible duty ammunition approved for the purpose by [Texas Commission on Law Enforcement].”

The Guardian Plan is broader, authorizing school boards to allow any employees to be armed, under the authority of the federal Gun-Free School Zones Act and the Texas Penal Code. Those employees, after completing 16 hours of training, may carry a concealed firearm in the presence of students.

“In most cases, school districts limit employee authorization to commissioned peace officers. In some districts, however, authorization has been granted to other school officials or even classroom teachers,” the TASB report says. “While state and federal law gives school districts broad discretion to authorize the possession of firearms and other weapons on school premises, granting such authority brings a host of practical concerns, including safety and liability.”

A Texas school district has the option to appoint one or more armed school marshals, adopt a local policy that authorizes employees to carry firearms on school premises, or both, according to the TASB.

Only a few districts have chosen the School Marshal plan and instead opted for the Guardian Plan. As of 2018, 303 school districts had adopted the Guardian Plan, according to the TASB. And there are currently 62 school districts participating in the School Marshal Program, the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement told the Star-Telegram.

Are school resource officers armed in Texas?

In addition to districts utilizing the School Marshal and Guardian Plans, school districts have their own police departments or employ school resource officers. There are 309 districts that have their own police departments, employing 3,434 officers, says the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement. And 244 districts employed school resource officers as of 2018.

A school resource officer is a sworn law-enforcement officer placed at a school district on a full or part time basis, according to Education Week. To employ the officer, the district has a contract with a local law enforcement agency to provide law enforcement services.

Their responsibilities are similar to regular police officers in that they have the ability to make arrests, respond to calls for service and document incidents that occur within their jurisdiction. Almost all are armed, and most carry restraints like handcuffs.

SROs also serve as educators, emergency managers, and informal counselors. Texas law requires that the officers undergo at least 16 hours of training.

Depending on the number of officers and the amount of time they will be stationed at the district, the understanding with a law enforcement agency typically requires the school district to cover the proportional cost of their salary, benefits, and equipment.