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Almost three times as many armed school marshals are heading back to school this year

Last August, there were only 71 school marshals enrolled in the state's school marshal program. Now, there are 206.

BRYAN, Texas —

The number of Texas teachers and school support staff licensed to carry guns on school campuses as part of the state’s school marshal program is set to more than double as students across the state head back to the classroom. 

The Texas Commission on Law Enforcement (TCOLE), which oversees the school marshal program, said there are 206 school marshals enrolled in the program in school districts across the state, up from 71 school marshals enrolled in the program as of August 2018. Due to safety regulations, the number of school districts participating in the program is kept confidential.

“We began last summer with 34 school marshals,” TCOLE Government Relations director Gretchen Grigsby said. “Following the school shootings at Parkland and Santa Fe, and with grant funds provided by the Governor’s Office, the program has grown leaps and bounds.”

Just this weekend, TCOLE trained ten school marshal applicants, who underwent 80 hours of training at the Texas Engineering Extension Service (TEEX) in Bryan. TEEX instructor Kyle McNew said each student shot anywhere from 700 to 800 rounds of ammunition during the course.

"We're taking them and we're teaching them shooting techniques and skills that we would teach law enforcement," McNew said. "They're actually honing skills and building new skills that we expect out of our everyday police officers."

Under the school marshal program, public school employees, whose identities are withheld from all but a handful of officials, are permitted to carry guns on school campuses. In an emergency situation, school marshals are charged with protecting students and staff in the absence of law enforcement. 

Currently, school districts participating in the school marshal program can only appoint one marshal for every 200 students or one marshal per campus building. Following the signing of a new state law, which kicks in September 1, school districts can appoint an unlimited number of school marshals.

Lawmakers, notably Gov. Greg Abbott, campaigned to change the law limiting school marshals following the deadly mass shooting at Santa Fe High School last May.

Critics of the change are concerned a rise in the number of guns on school campuses could increase the risk of accidents. 

A school marshal undergoing training at TEEX said he doesn’t see it that way. Neither he, nor the district he works for, could be identified due to safety regulations.

“My gun will be carried concealed,” he said. “It will never be out unless the unforeseen happens. There’s no way for the kids to grab it, to see it, to even know that I’m carrying it so, yes, there is a gun in the school but nobody but me knows.”