EL PASO, Texas - Conversations about a program that's dedicated to keeping schools safe are buzzing in Texas. However, this program is not commonly known to the public - nor is it widely used.
The Texas School Marshal Program, which has been around since 2013, allows certain school employees to carry a firearm on school premises as a measure of added security. The hope of this program is to prevent an active shooter situation, such as the tragedy in Uvalde.
Despite its mission to help prevent violence in schools, the program is heavily underutilized. Less than 5% of schools in the state have a marshal - just 250 across 62 Texas school districts, which enroll over 5.3 million students.
Debates and ideas about how gun and school safety can be addressed are still a hot topic, and Governor Greg Abbott has suggested to the Texas Education Agency to begin rolling out more marshals across the state as a response to school violence like Uvalde. Abbott has been encouraging districts to adopt the program since 2018, even providing a grant to the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement that same year.
Abbott told Texas Education Agency Commissioner Mike Morath in a letter that he "should develop strategies to encourage school districts to increase the presence of trained law enforcement officers and school marshals on campuses." Locally, discussions of this program were brought up once again in a recent El Paso City Council meeting.
El Paso ISD and the surrounding school districts do not currently have any marshals employed, nor do they plan to employ any in the future. However, EPISD and Canutillo ISD each have their own police forces which "patrol and monitor campuses and facilities." Other districts, such as Fabens ISD, employ school resource officers (SROs), as well as additional security officers.
Marshals differ from traditional school security and SROs in their training and certifications. Marshals are required to be licensed to carry, approved by the school board, and need to be employed by the school district they will be serving in. Additionally, they must pass a psychological exam, be proficient in the use of weapons and force, and complete an 80-hour school marshal course. They must also complete a 16-hour renewal course every 2 years.