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Texas schools can choose to train and arm their teachers. Here’s how it works

President Trump, a number of other Republicans and the NRA have ramped up calls for arming teachers. But it's an idea that generating a lot of criticism among educators. Jason Villalba, a Texas state representative and the architect of the school marshal program that allows Texas school districts to train and arm teachers, joins John Yang to discuss how it works.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    In the days since the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, President Trump and a number of other Republicans, as well as the NRA, have ramped up calls for arming teachers and other educators.

    There’s no specific proposal, but the president has suggested it could be done for teachers who voluntarily want to do so, and who would then be offered a small bonus.

    It’s an idea generating a lot of criticism in the field of education. There are some districts and states that have tried variations of this.

    In fact, last night, a school in Pike County, Kentucky, gave preliminary approval to allowing teachers to carry concealed guns.

    John Yang takes a closer look at all of this for our weekly education segment, Making the Grade.

  • John Yang:

    We get two views on the question of whether teachers should have weapons in the classroom.

    First, Texas State Representative Jason Villalba, a Dallas Republican. He’s the architect of the school marshal program which allows Texas school districts to train and arm teachers.

    Mr. Villalba, thanks for joining us.

    As I understand it, this program allows districts, local districts, to make the decision on whether or not to do this. Is that right?

  • Jason Villalba:

     That is correct. These are volunteers at the school. The district at the trustee level will determine whether or not they would adopt the school marshal program.

  • John Yang:

    And is there any role for the parents to play in this, to decide whether they want this to happen?

  • Jason Villalba:

    Well, clearly, the parents are going to play an active role. One, they elect the trustees who make this ultimate decision.

    And, two, they can participate in any kind of meeting that would be used to determine whether or not the schools would adopt this program.

  • John Yang:

    And the teachers are selective. It’s one, I think, for every 400 students. Is that right?

  • Jason Villalba:

    Yes. The idea is the average-sized school campus in Texas is right around 400. We wanted to make sure there are the necessary personnel to protect those campuses.

    So it would be about one per 400. If the school, for instance, had 800, you could have two marshals on that campus.

  • John Yang:

    And what are the rules that the marshals — these marshals can be teachers, they can be any school personnel, is that right?

  • Jason Villalba:

    Yes. It’s anyone that is on the premises of the campus. So it could be a vice principal. It could be a teacher. It could even be a janitor or a coach.

    The idea is these volunteers would come forward. They would ask for extensive training. These are not just individuals who go to school for three hours and come back and say, I want to be a school marshal. They are going to be identical training that our peace officers go through in Texas, 80 hours to be able to confront and neutralize active shooters.

    They go through extensive background checks. They get mental health screenings. And they have regular, recurring training to make sure that they’re proficient in every skill that they need to be able to act in this role.

  • John Yang:

    And what are the rules about securing the weapons during the school day and when they can act, when they can use the weapons?

  • Jason Villalba:

    If the marshal is within the immediate vicinity of children, let’s say it’s a teacher, then any firearm must be under lock and key within the immediate reach of the officer.

    We don’t want someone to have to go three campuses down or into a basement to be able to reach the firearm. It has to be within the immediate access, so that we can cut that confrontation down to seconds, rather than minutes.

    If the individual is not in the vicinity of children, let’s say it’s a coach in office hours where there are no children around, then and only then can the officer carry the weapon on his or her person.

  • John Yang:

    And I know that this program is supposed to be sort of secret. You don’t want shooters targeting schools with these marshals, but do you have any sense of how many districts in Texas participate in this?

  • Jason Villalba:

    We have talked to TCOLE. TCOLE is the organization that administers the program.

    We know that about 50 individuals have gone through training. We know that the certification number is probably less than that. They try to keep it confidential. The last number we heard was in the 20 range for the independent school districts that have adopted this plan.

    It has not been more widely adopted, only because, when we passed the bill, there was no funding for the training. And right now because it’s not widely known about — the program isn’t widely known, we don’t have a lot of ISDs adopting it. Mostly, it’s been rural areas and rural ISDs that don’t have police officers on campus or even within the vicinity.

  • John Yang:

    Teachers groups nationwide, or national teachers groups have been responding to this discussion about this by saying that they want to focus on educating children, that the security ought to be left up to professionals.

    How do you respond to that?

  • Jason Villalba:

    Well, I would say that we need to distinguish what we’re trying to do here from arming the teachers. I hear this program often called arming the teachers. That’s not what this is.

    What we’re really trying to do is train individuals to become peace officers. The law in Texas actually created a new class of peace officer that would be the school marshal to act in this one instance.

    Look, no one wants to introduce more firearms into the school place. Certainly, I don’t, as a parent of children, in the public schools. But in that instance where someone is seeking to do harm to our children, I, as a parent, want a last line of defense to give my children a chance.

  • John Yang:

    Representative Jason Villalba of Dallas, thanks so much for joining us.

  • Jason Villalba:

    My honor. Thank you so much.

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