Texas House Bill 3 makes several significant changes to school safety laws, including requiring districts to assign armed personnel at every campus. While each school board can determine the appropriate number of armed security officers for each district campus, the law mandates that at least one armed security officer – specifically a commissioned peace officer – is present during regular school hours at each campus.

School districts can, however, apply for a good cause exception due to lack of funding or qualified personnel. If the board claims an exception, the board must provide an alternative plan that may include reliance on a school marshal or an employee or contracted individual who has completed the handgun safety course required for handgun license holders and is authorized to carry a firearm by the district (often called a “guardian” or a “school marshal”). These requirements go into effect with the 2023-24 school year.

Following a short discussion during last Tuesday’s school board meeting ECISD trustees voted 7-0 to approve a resolution to submit to the State of Texas claiming a good cause exception to the HB 3 security mandates.

Trustees were provided information indicating that compliance with HB 3 would cost the district approximately $70,500 per officer per year in salary and benefits. Additionally, approximately $79,000 per officer would be required in year one to cover fully outfitting each officer including a police car. Trustees were also told that state funding would only cover $684,000 of the approximately 4.5 million dollars of year one costs.

“I’m a bit frustrated with our school trustees,” stated Ector County Republican Party Chair Tisha Crow. “While I realize that adding additional costs to our school district’s budget isn’t ideal, I think we also need our Trustees to keep this number in perspective. The costs associated with armed school personnel represents less than one half of one percent of our $410 million school budget. I think this is a small price to pay to ensure that our students, teachers, and staff are as safe as possible.  I believe that if our school administration would look closely at our budget we could save a half percent somewhere less critical in order to secure our schools. For example, I consider keeping our students, teachers and staff safe much more important than spending big bucks updating our Smartboards.  As we saw just recently at Permian High School the threats to our schools are real and they are ever present and I pray that our school trustees’ unwillingness to fund better campus security in compliance with state law doesn’t have tragic consequences.”

In order to claim a good cause exception the District must also provide an alternative plan which could include arming specially trained school staff to act in the position of “guardian”. No alternative plan was discussed at Tuesday’s Board meeting.

In an interview with Wallace Dunn, a local firearms expert and trainer, Dunn stated that over the past four years he has discussed with District staff and Trustees ways to enable the District to have highly trained armed personnel on every campus but has always been rebuffed.  “Shorty after Dr. Muri was hired I met with him and told him that I would provide – free of any cost to the District – a comprehensive two day training course that would qualify someone to be a school marshal.  I have also talked with several school board members over the past several years about providing this training as a way to beef up our school security and to protect our students.  To put it kindly, I’ve received a very cold shoulder from the District which has really frustrated me.”  

Dunn continued, “We have endured mass shootings at schools for over 30 years now. There are experts in the field that KNOW how to stop this, and the school districts choose not to use their services. The model of “call 911 and wait,” DOES NOT WORK. We must have a FASTER armed response to stop these murderers as soon as possible.  This is a hot button issue for me and I am very worried that the only way our District is going to get serious about protecting our campuses by having armed, trained personnel on every campus is after we end up with some dead students or staff.”

Odessa Headlines contacted all seven ECISD Trustees via email for their plan moving forward.  As of publication, only two Trustees – Wayne Woodall and Bob Thayer – responded to our request.  Trustee Woodall stated that he wants to meet the Texas mandate for armed personnel on every campus “as soon as possible” and stated that “I would be in favor of any help with staffing we can get. Guardians may be a solution. I would have to look into it more.”  Woodall also replied that “In the end I am very pleased that Texas has passed this law, our children deserve to be protected at all times and this may sound cliché but it is the truth the only way to stop a bad guy with  a gun is to have a good guy with a gun.”

When asked about utilizing school “Guardians” Trustee Thayer stated “I believe we will consider any and all possibilities as the Law allows. In the past, some campuses have tried to organize ‘Watch Dog’ teams. These are involved dads who help with drop off in the morning and a roaming presence throughout the day. Just having a strong presence, not necessarily an armed presence, serves as a deterrence.”  When asked how important he thought it would be to have licensed and trained law enforcement personnel on every campus Thayer responded “I believe having licensed and trained personnel on campus would make a big difference, but it isn’t the only way to create a safer environment. Guardians, Watch Dogs, volunteers in the AM and PM drop offs, etc can make a difference.”

Trustee Dawn Miller also responded to Odessa Headlines request for comment with “Thank you for your interest. Any board comments, per our Board Policy, should be directed to our board President, Chris Stanley. I’ve copied him on this email so he can correspond directly to you.”  Odessa Headlines asked Miller what Board policy she was referring to but as of publication she has not responded.

HB 3 also requires each district employee who has regular contact with students to undergo mental health first-aid training. Compliance dates for this provision are staggered, with all employees needing to be trained by 2028-29.