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Home | Tag Archives: texas teachers

Tag Archives: texas teachers

Texas Schools that Want to Arm their Employees Have Two Choices

Following a deadly mass shooting at Santa Fe High School, Gov. Greg Abbott rolled out a 40-page plan to keep schools safe.

Proposals ranged from beefing up existing mental health screening programs to encouraging voluntary use of gun locks at home, but one component seemed to divide lawmakers, districts and Texas schools: arming school employees.

If Texas schools want to arm their staffs, they have two options. One is the Marshal Program, which Abbott proposed using state funds to help schools implement. It allows local school boards to authorize employees to carry a handgun on campus, but they must be specially trained and licensed by the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement. Under the program, armed school personnel can’t carry firearms around students.

The other option was already around when then-Gov. Rick Perry signed the Marshal Program into law in 2012. Created by Harrold Independent School District Superintendent David Thweatt in 2007, the Guardian Plan allows local school boards to determine training standards and authorize specific employees to carry on campus at all times.

Here are four things to know about the two existing plans that allow school districts to arm their employees:

The Marshal Program creates a new kind of peace officer

For districts that choose to adopt the Marshal Program, teachers and other school staff members who undergo the required training are taught to act as armed security officers — or peace officers — in the absence of law enforcement.

“The Marshal Program is about creating an entirely new class of peace officers — certified and [Texas Commission on Law Enforcement] trained — who can act in a moment of crisis to disable and neutralize an active shooter,” said state Rep. Jason Villalba, the Dallas Republican who authored the bill that created the Texas school marshal program Abbott wants to expand. “That’s why the program is so starkly different than what Mr. Thweatt calls the guardian plan.”

The Guardian Plan, on the other hand, lets school staff carry guns with or without marshal training. It doesn’t train school personnel as peace officers, but lets them carry their weapons as long as they undergo district-specific training and have a handgun license. And it doesn’t have a maximum requirement for how many teachers can be armed, unlike the Marshal Program which lets schools only designate one employee a marshal for every 400 students.

Despite the differences in approach for the two plans, they both aim to mitigate tragedies in the event an active shooter comes on campus grounds.

“That’s the reason we’re doing it, and I think we can do that because they’re not going to know from where our particular defense is going to come,” Thweatt said.

“When [an active shooter] comes to the school, they’re going to get swarmed from multiple directions,” he added. “Armed shooters go where they know there’s going to be little resistance, but if they don’t know where they’re going to get resistance, they’re not going to come to our schools.”

Rural districts are more likely to adopt one of the plans

More than 200 of Texas’ 1,000-plus school districts have adopted one of two programs. And a majority of those districts tend to be in rural communities, according to Dax Gonzalez, a spokesman for the Texas Association of School Boards.

“Generally speaking, districts with police departments … do not tend to allow staff to carry firearms,” Gonzalez said. “Those 217 are likely smaller, more rural districts that feel they cannot be serviced by local law enforcement quickly enough.”

Villalba told POLITICO in February that he believes anywhere between 20 to 50 districts have adopted the marshal program. At least 172 Texas districts have adopted the Guardian Plan.

Training and gun storage requirements vary

Arguably one of the biggest differences between the two programs is different requirements for teachers or other employees who want to carry a gun.

Marshals have to receive 80 training hours and keep their firearms under lock and key. The Guardian Plan, on the other hand, lets teachers keep their firearm with them at all times — as long as they have a concealed handgun license and go through 15 to 20 hours of training.

It’s worth noting that these requirements could change, however. Abbott previously proposed streamlining the training course under the Marshal Program — which he called “burdensome”— and eliminating the lockbox requirement.

Villalba was critical of Abbott’s tweaks to the Marshal Program, saying that parents might be upset if teachers didn’t have to lock up their weapons.

But several Texas Republicans, including Jerry Patterson, Texas’ former land commissioner who helped get the state’s concealed handgun law passed in 1995, say the lockbox requirement does more harm than good.

“The lockbox requirement is silly. The gun needs to be carried on the person and accessible immediately,” Patterson said. “Not where you have to run to the office, go through a combination and then get the gun. If you carry it all the time, you won’t lose the weapon.”

Individuals schools and districts that adopt the Guardian Plan are also allowed to choose their own training requirements. At Harrold ISD, for example, employees who choose to carry go through at least 15 hours of training that includes videos of hostage scenarios and shooting drills. Fayetteville ISD, which adopted the plan in February, doesn’t require a specific amount of firearms training (though most staff do around 20 hours per year). And at Keene ISD, which adopted the Guardian Plan in 2016, Superintendent Ricky Stephens previously told The Texas Tribune he requires staff to undergo 80 hours of initial training and 40 hours annually after that.

Only one plan receives money from the state

To adopt either plan, districts have to find a way to pay for training, purchase firearms and ammunition and, in some cases, a lock box.

But only the Marshal Program has received state funding to help pay for those expenses.

When the Marshal Program was first signed into law, the state had a grant program in place to help districts cover training costs. But that money ran out and funding has not been reauthorized. That’s why Abbott proposed that the state pay for school marshal training this summer to ease the burden on individual districts.

Funding for the Guardian Plan was notably missing from the governor’s proposal, however. Instead of getting approval from the Legislature, authorization for the plan is outlined under the Texas Government Code, which lets certain school district employees who have a handgun license to carry their weapon.

Since there’s no legislative recognition of the Guardian Plan, Thweatt said, districts that adopt the plan have to pay for it themselves. Thweatt said Harrold ISD reimburses employees who participate for the cost of guns, ammunition and training.

“I’ve never received any funding [from the state] for the Guardian Plan,” Thweatt said.

Note: This story was inspired by a discussion on education policy happening now in our Facebook group, This is Your Texas. Sign up here to join the conversation.

Disclosure: The Texas Association of School Boards has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

Author: ALEX SAMUELS – The Texas Tribune

Texas Law Blocks Teachers From Striking for Better Pay, Benefits

AUSTIN – Statistics out this week show that teachers’ salaries in Texas now rank among the bottom third of all 50 states.

Although teachers in West Virginia, Oklahoma and Arizona have walked out or are preparing to walk out of the classroom in protest, the more than 350,000 public school teachers in Texas don’t have that option – it’s against the law for them to strike. Monty Exter, a lobbyist with the Association of Texas Professional Educators, said Texas teachers not only face low salaries, but also benefits such as health insurance and pensions that are some of the poorest in the country.

“When you look at just salaries in Texas, we are pretty much in the middle of all states in a ranking, but we are still about $6,000 below the national average,” Exter said. “The main issue for teachers in Texas is our non-salary compensation is ranked 50th out of 50.”

While underpaid instructors in other states have organized to pressure lawmakers in an effort to get better compensation, officials say most Texas teachers would lose their jobs if they went on strike. In 2017, the Texas Legislature failed to pass an education funding reform package that would have provided teacher raises, instead concentrating on a failed attempt to pass private school vouchers.

Clay Robison, public affairs specialist with the Texas State Teachers Association, said while they can’t join them on the picket lines, Texas educators back educators’ efforts in other states to fight for better pay and benefits.

“We strongly support our colleagues in Arizona and the other states where they have been walking out over poor salaries, poor education funding, and in some cases, they’ve been walking out to protect their pensions,” Robison said.

Exter said the best place for teachers to bring change to Texas schools is at the ballot box.

“When you look at educators in Texas and you add in the retired education community, you’re talking about more than a million people,” Exter said. “And if all those folks voted, they could essentially, probably, sway almost any election in the state of Texas.”

In a report this week, the National Education Association ranked Texas 36th among the states in per-pupil funding. It also said the average teacher salary in Texas is about $53,000 a year – well below the national average of more than $60,000.

Author- Mark Richardson – Texas News Service

More than Half of Texas Public School Students are in Districts Where Teacher Certification isn’t Required

More than half of Texas public school students are in districts that don’t require teachers to be certified, according to state officials, due to a recent law giving schools more freedom on educational requirements.

A 2015 law lets public schools access exemptions from requirements such as teacher certification, school start dates and class sizes — the same exemptions allowed for open enrollment charter schools. Using a District of Innovation plan, districts can create a comprehensive educational program and identify provisions under Texas law that would inhibit their goals.

Data from the Texas Education Agency found that 604 rural and urban districts with innovation plans have received an exemption from teacher certification so far. Texas Association of School Boards spokesperson Dax Gonzalez said most of those districts are using the exemption so industry specialists — such as engineers, nurses and law enforcement officials — can offer hands-on learning to students in career and technology classes.

But the move has some education experts worried that districts are laying the groundwork for having uncertified teachers handle core subjects like math, science and language arts, despite a promise not to do so. Although uncertified educators have been able to teach core classes through waivers and permits, those are approved on a case-by-case basis.

Usually, in order to teach in Texas classrooms, candidates must obtain certification by earning a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university, completing an educator preparation program, passing the appropriate teacher certification exams, being fingerprinted for a national criminal background check and submitting a state application.

In Harlingen Consolidated Independent School District, Tim Soto is one of eight uncertified teachers, all responsible for career and technology courses. The electronic technician was hired to teach classes on hands-on tool usage and safety and electrical field practices.

This is Soto’s first year as a teacher, but he has worked for Harlingen CISD for 26 years as an apprentice electrician and a technology specialist. Soto, a college graduate, said he “jumped at the chance” to to give back to the district. And, he said, he’s received nothing but support from other teachers and his students’ parents in creating his curriculum.

“I was nervous, but things just fell into place,” Soto said. “I’ve found that my years of experience are invaluable for students. Instead of having them just read out of a textbook, I can show them how to use the proper tools and help them avoid making mistakes as an apprentice.”

But districts aren’t required to limit the exemption to only career and technology courses. The blanket certification exemption legally allows them to hire uncertified teachers for staple classes like Algebra I or Biology, and even for special education or early childhood classes.

“We don’t want it to expand,” said Kate Kuhlmann, a lobbyist with the Association of Texas Professional Educators. “There are a lot of people that have great content knowledge, but it’s also really important they have a strong understanding of and training in what it means to be a teacher.”

Because there are already avenues around teacher certification — such as waivers and permits that have to be accepted by TEA, the commissioner of education or the school board — a broader exemption should not be necessary, said Texas State Teachers Association spokesperson Clay Robison. Robison called the innovation plan exemption a way for districts to “cut corners” without the same accountability.

Many states have responded to a national teacher shortage by allowing emergency-type hires, said Desiree Carver-Thomas, a research and policy associate with the Learning Policy Institute, a nonprofit research organization based in California. More than 100,000 teachers were unqualified based on their state’s certification standards, according to data between 2015 and 2017, Carver-Thomas said.

But Texas exemption standards are among the broadest nationally, Kuhlmann said. Many states just offer permits or waivers for districts that need to fill classrooms with uncertified teachers. And while states like Kansas and Alabama have innovation district models that offer a teacher certification exemption, Kuhlmann said they have built-in parameters for how many districts can qualify and what classes fall under the exemption.

Still, receiving a response for case-by-case applications in Texas can take nearly a month, and there’s always the possibility of being rejected. And unlike the permit or waiver process, choosing exemptions under a District of Innovation plan involves community input, two-thirds buy-in from the district’s board of trustees and approval from a district-level decision-making committee, said Bruce Gearing, Dripping Springs ISD’s superintendent.

Gearing said he doesn’t foresee his district hiring uncertified teachers outside of career and technical education. Even if that need arises, he said, the district would have to go through a public amendment process to change the implementation of the teacher certification exemption.

“It’s about trust,” Gonzalez, the TASB spokesperson, said. “You either trust local school boards and administrations to go out and find the best teachers for students, or you don’t. And again, this exemption just allows a flexibility that charter schools already have.”

The Texas State Teachers Association, the Association of Texas Professional Educators and the Texas Association of School Boards have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

Read related Tribune coverage:

Author: RISHIKA DUGYALA – The Texas Tribune

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