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Texas school districts debate proposed school marshal program

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Recent shootings, like in Newtown, Connecticut, have prompted our legislative leaders to address the issue of school safety. Now, Texas legislators are following suit. Proposed House Bill 1009, or the Protection of Texas Children Act, is making its way to the House floor for a vote and as our state leaders debate the bill, so does one area school district it might affect.

A district of only about 800 students, Sanford-Fritch I.S.D. is one of very few left without a school liaison officer.

"We do feel like we provide a very safe environment," said Sanford-Fritch I.S.D. Superintendent Jim McClelland. "We just don't have that one person that is quote a marshal or school liaison officer."

House Bill 1009 aims to change that, with a proposed school marshal program.

"This is for those schools that don't have that level of protection," explained District 114 Representative Jason Villabla, who proposed the bill. "So instead of hiring a police officer at say $75,000 a year, you can instead train one of your existing employees at much less expense."

But less may not be enough. The bill won't be mandated by the state, meaning it won't be paying for the required 80 hours of training, leaving the marshal or the district to foot the bill.

"The other thing that hurts Sanford-Fritch is our funding," said McClelland. "It's difficult to look at it from that perspective, I mean you can't put a price on a child's life, but yet we still have to have that training."

Other, less expensive options, have been brought to the table.

"Arming our school administrators or looking at hiring an SRO, a school resource officer," added McClelland.

But they lack the psychological evaluations, background checks and extensive training the school marshal program would enforce.

"That's what this bill does,"continued Rep. Villabla. "It creates this new class of law enforcement officer that's a much, much more robust standard of training than you would get with just a CHL."

All factors in a decision McClelland called "two fold".

"That's the sad reality of where we are," he said. "So we have to look into it."

The House is waiting for the bill to make it to the floor for a vote, but Villabla believes it has good support from both sides. Once passes in the House, it will then move on to the Senate.

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