Richardson ISD officials are planning to hire 36 new campus security officers to comply with a new state law requiring armed guards at every Texas school.

The security plan, which the RISD board of trustees voted to approve Aug. 10, comes as an exemption to the new law, due to a lack of available personnel.

“We know from our police department partners that there are not nearly enough certified off-duty police officers available to fill these full-time roles across all our elementary schools,” RISD Assistant Superintendent Sandra Hayes said during the Aug. 10 meeting. “Our safety and security team agreed that the next best options are hiring new in-house employees whose vetting, training and preparation can be assured as people who will be carrying loaded firearms inside our schools.”

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 are calling “an underfunded mandate.”

The new law came as some lawmakers’ response to the mass shooting in an Uvalde elementary school that killed 19 students and two teachers.

The cost

To fund the new directive, school districts have received $15,000 in state funding per campus, which equals about $825,000 for RISD per year, Superintendent Tabitha Branum 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 RISD is about $2.4 million, Branum said, but larger school districts, such as Dallas ISD, are expecting costs closer to $12 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 ask the Texas Education Agency for an exemption, which RISD is doing. In such a case, the district could commission school marshals; school guardians, such as teachers or custodians; or commissioned “Level 3 security officers,” which are trained and licensed to carry a gun through the Texas Department of Public Safety.

The details

RISD’s implementation plan includes hiring 34 Level 3 campus security officers, plus two lead security officers, who will supervise the new team and help with vacancies. The district has posted the job openings, which will pay $55,000-$61,000 annually, depending on experience.

The 34 new security officers, who will be stationed at various RISD elementary campuses, will not replace the already existing school resource officers present at all secondary schools and seven other elementary schools. They will be uniformed to be identifiable as security personnel but distinguishable from police officers, and their duties will focus on security and emergency response without the power to make arrests.

“There’s no question that we all want the utmost safety for our students and our staff,” RISD Trustee Chris Poteet said at the meeting. “Is this the perfect plan? No, it’s not the perfect plan. Is it the right plan? I would argue it’s the right plan for RISD today because things could change tomorrow.”

Going forward

The new requirements must be implemented by Sept. 1, unless a school district has received an exemption. As RISD hires its new security personnel, already existing officers will patrol multiple campuses per day at varied times. Classes will start Aug. 14 across RISD.

As the district implements the new guards, all previously established security protocols will still be in place for the 2023-24 school year. These include:
  • Double buzz-in vestibules and camera coverage at main school entries
  • Panic buttons installed for emergency staff use
  • Ongoing audits of exterior door locks
  • Handheld metal detectors at each campus, used randomly as a deterrent
  • On-the-spot background checks for campus visitors
  • Armed Dallas and Richardson police officer presence at all secondary schools and some elementary schools