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School Officials Ask Lawmakers for Local Control Over Armed Security

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Dan Patrick
Sen. Dan Patrick (R-Houston)

School advocates from districts across Texas seem to agree on at least one thing when it comes to keeping schools safe: their systems work for them, and they don’t want the state interfering.

In a joint meeting of the Senate Education and Agriculture, Rural Affairs and Homeland Security committees on Monday, the discussion revolved around arming staff as a part of a school’s safety plan. Lawmakers heard from officials in districts with some armed teachers, a few security guards or even their own police departments.

Many of them also worried whether a state-mandated security plan would come with any more funding to implement it. That might sound like a familiar concern, with the school finance trial underway a few blocks from the Capitol, where school districts complain the Legislature has given them a bigger job to do and no more money to do it with.

If nothing else, Senate Education Chairman Dan Patrick seemed to share their enthusiasm for local control. “One protocol may not fit every district,” he said.

Patrick, who led the hearing, also wondered whether there’s a discrepancy in Texas law regarding guns in schools. The state penal code prohibits guns on school grounds, he noted, but Texas Education Code allows schools to commission peace officers.

Pete Blair, director of research for the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training Center, said it’s difficult to interpret the law in this case. “Those two don’t mesh really well,” Blair said. “It’s probably a good thing to clarify.”

Patrick asked Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw, a former police officer, whether a student might grab a gun from an armed school employee and run wild.

“There’s always a risk,” McCraw said.

Harrold ISD, a small North Texas district about 30 miles from the nearest police department, paid to train several staff members in concealed carry, and pay them an additional amount equal to a guard’s annual salary, superintendent David Thweatt said.

“We are our first responders,” Thweatt said. “I believe if you can stop it in its conception then you have a responsibility to do so.”

Larger urban school districts like Dallas ISD take another approach, managing their own  police departments. Dallas ISD Police Chief Craig Miller suggested using security measures like cameras and buzz-in doors, and said the best use of money for school security would be hiring police.

Miller, a form Dallas Police deputy chief, said he’s reviewed hundreds of shootings by police in his career. “In every one of them the officer was second guessing,” Miller said. “I don’t want to see a teacher put in that position.”