SAN ANTONIO – In the wake of school shootings in Parkland, Florida, and Santa Fe, Texas, officials with the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement said interest in a program to train armed educators has been exploding.
The school marshal program, which the Texas State Legislature approved in 2013, allows school districts to appoint employees as armed "school marshals" who would fight back against an active shooter.
According to TCOLE, which oversees the program, there are 33 appointed marshals statewide, but spokeswoman Gretchen Grigsby said the number could quadruple by the start of the next school year.
An estimated 110 people have signed up for the training over the course of the summer, Grigsby said.
To be certified as a marshal, employees must complete an 80-hour training course.
"School safety is on a lot of people's minds now," Grigsby said.
Grigsby attributed the increased interest in part to recent school shootings, especially in Santa Fe. She also said Gov. Greg Abbott's roundtable discussions, which included discussion about enlarging the school marshal program, have helped increase awareness as have subsequent legislative hearings.
TCOLE has also received more grant money from the Governor's Criminal Justice Division for training costs, Grigsby said.
The Alamo Area Council of Governments Regional Law Enforcement Training Academy runs one of the training programs. Adjunct instructor Richard Bryan said the current class of 16 participants is the largest it has had since AACOG began offering the training in December 2014.
"From what we've seen, just talking to the participants, they want to do something in these type of situations," Bryan said. "If something was to go bad, they want to be able to help."
It hasn't always been that way.
"Last year when we scheduled it, we actually had to cancel it because there wasn't enough interest at the time," Bryan said.
Participants in the course spent Friday morning, their sixth day of the seven-day course, at a training site on the city's Southeast Side, practicing clearing hallways and rooms in close quarters. KSAT 12 News was asked not to identify any of the participants in order for them remain anonymous in their future school marshal roles until they are needed.
As the participants moved slowly through the course in pairs, employees of school districts around Texas fired Simunition rounds at other participants playing the role of shooters.
The training didn't always go smoothly during the School Marshal course we saw today...(high-vis vest is an instructor) pic.twitter.com/MHUVh4CIu1— Garrett Brnger (@BrngerReports) June 29, 2018
It didn't always go smoothly. As one participant rounded a corner, he shot one of the instructors wearing a high-visibility vest.
Bryan said if mistakes are going to be made, they need to happen in a training environment.
"But we don't just leave somebody to make a mistake and say, 'Hey you made a mistake' and then send them out in the world," Bryan said. "What we do is we'll go back. We'll debrief. 'OK, what could you have done differently?'"
Although the idea of arming educators as a solution to school shootings has gotten pushback, participants in the course are serious about protecting their schools.
"We arm police officers. We provide security to politicians. Why not protect our greatest resources, students?" said one of the participants, a high school principal from Central Texas.