The Sherman Independent School District’s board of trustees will hold a public hearing on May 21 to gauge community interest in a potential security program that would allow current district employees with law enforcement backgrounds to carry handguns on campus.
“In light of recent events in the country, recent rulings by the government about handguns on school campuses and some board members relaying curiosity from people in the community, we asked the superintendent and the district to look into the broader scope of this question about weapons on campus,” Board President Tim Millerick said.
The Texas Education Agency said public school districts within the state can take a variety of approaches to campus security. Districts can enter into an agreement with outside government agencies, such as a local police department, to appoint specific, part-time or full-time school resource officers. They may also assemble their own district police department or hire a private security team, all members of which must be state-certified peace officers.
Sherman Police Department officers currently provide security each day at three of the district’s campuses — Dillingham Intermediate School, Piner Middle School and Sherman High School. Individual officers are not permanently assigned to the schools, but may request to work at the campuses as an additional shift or during their respective days off. Funding for officers’ on-campus presence is paid for by the district at a cost of roughly $180,000 a year and distributed directly to the officers.
But with at least three former police officers currently working for the district, Millerick said administrators and the board have gravitated toward what the state calls a Guardian Plan. Sherman ISD Director of Communications Emily Parks explained the Guardian Plan is similar to appointing properly-certified employees as “school marshals,” but comes without some of that designation’s added requirements, which include a Texas Commission on Law Enforcement peace officer certification, a psychological exam and 80 hours of instruction.
“The Guardian program gives districts a little more leeway in determining who is eligible, setting that selection criteria and training,” Parks said. “Now it’s important to note that the Guardian is not necessarily a lesser program. It, essentially, would provide us the flexibility to personalize who is eligible and what kind of training that they need or receive.”
If the program is approved, Parks said the district plans to limit participation to current staff members who possess a Texas peace officer certification and an honorable discharge from service.
“We’re choosing them because they’re among us now, they’re trained appropriately in the state, and they have professional experience that we think would enable them to be a resource — if in fact, in the end, we vote on the Guardian Plan to be put in place,” Millerick said. “At this point, that’s the one (group) we would like to explore. We’ve not taken a formal vote, but it’s my sense that the board is not really looking to go beyond in some of these other options, like arming teachers or having our own commissioned peace officer force, school marshals, and so on. Those seemed to be more broad than what we were interested in, at this moment.”
Parks and Millerick were not able to provide an estimate as to how much it would cost to enact the Guardian Plan, but Parks said, if the program is approved, the district will continue to have active-duty officers on the three campuses which they currently serve. It was unclear whether the district had approached eligible staff members about their willingness to participate in the program.
Millerick said following the hearing, the district will return to the board with additional information, setting trustees up for a possible vote later this summer. Millerick said if the board approves the program, it would likely be enacted in time for the 2018-2019 academic year.
Parks said in addition to the hearing, the district plans to launch an online survey regarding the proposed program and will share additional information with student families later this week.
“Our community can feel confident that we are doing everything that we can and that we’re going above and beyond the requirements to keep our students, staff and visitors safe,” Parks said. “This is just another conversation in that process to make sure that we are looking at all options, listening to the community and ensuring that our current resources are used wisely.”
The public hearing will be held May 21 at 7 p.m. in the Sherman ISD administration building, which is located at 2701 N. Loy Lake Rd.