Following newly passed state legislative requirements, Dallas ISD officials are planning how to fund and staff the implementation of an armed security guard at each of its 230 campuses. To do so, they plan to claim an available exemption due to a lack of funding and available personnel.

While acknowledging minimal state funding for the initiative, DISD Superintendent Stephanie Elizalde stressed the already existing shortage of police officers across the state as the primary reason for seeking an exemption.

“While certainly dollars are important, remember that this board will never have dollars be an impediment to safety,” Elizalde said at an Aug. 10 news conference. “Truly the biggest issue is the availability of workforce.”

The background

Under House Bill 3, which Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law, all Texas schools are required to have an on-site armed security officer during regular school hours starting Sept. 1. Since the new law was signed, school districts across the state have been grappling with how to fund the costly directive, which school leaders have said the state is drastically underfunding.

The cost

To fund the new directive, school districts have received $15,000 in state funding per campus, which equals about $3.6 million for DISD per year, Elizalde said. They also received a 28-cent increase in the state’s safety and security allotment per student, which brings the allotment to $10 per student.

Overall, the new requirements will cost several million dollars for school districts to maintain. The expected cost for DISD is about $12 million, while smaller school districts, such as Richardson ISD, are expecting costs closer to $2.5 million.

The conditions

Under the new law, there are three options for what counts as an armed security guard:
  • School district peace officer: a district employee licensed by the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement and commissioned by the district
  • School resource officer: a commissioned peace officer with the same training as a peace officer who is employed by a local municipality and assigned to a specific district through a contract between the municipality and the district
  • Commissioned peace officer employed as security personnel: an off-duty commissioned peace officer contracted directly with the district or through a security services contractor licensed under Texas Occupations Code Chapter 1702
If a school district is unable to comply with the requirements because of a lack of funding or lack of available personnel who qualify to serve as a security officer, its board of trustees may claim a good-cause exemption, which is Elizalde’s plan. In such a case, the district could commission school marshals; school guardians, such as teachers or custodians; or commissioned “level three security officers,” which are trained and licensed to carry a gun, instead.

The approach

Elizalde said the district has no plans to commission school marshals or guardians and will focus only on commissioning level three security officers. Her plan is to hire and train the officers through the DISD Police Department “to ensure that this isn’t just someone [with] minimal training and the ability to carry a weapon.”

Even with the training, the level three officers would focus solely on security and emergencies without the power to make arrests, she noted.

To begin, DISD would deploy as many of its officers in supervisory roles as possible, meaning they will take on additional responsibilities, Elizalde said. For example, some DISD police sergeants would be assigned to certain areas of the district in addition to already existing patrol officers.

“[Our] goal is to ensure that every elementary school would have a response time from our own police department within five minutes if not less until we work to ensure that every single campus has an armed security officer,” Elizalde said at the news conference.

During the first year of the new law, DISD officials would use level three security officers and attempt to recruit licensed peace officers from other entities to join the police department.

Under the exemption, DISD would still be required to create a three- to five-year plan on how to eventually implement armed security guards.

Stay tuned

The DISD board of trustees is expected to vote on its final implementation plan for its armed guard program Aug. 24. The new requirements must be implemented by Sept. 1. Classes will start Aug. 14 across DISD.

Elizalde said the district will not be able to have an armed security officer on each of its campuses by Sept. 1. While the district works to fill those positions, parents can expect to see DISD police officers patrolling campuses during certain periods of time.