Desolate halls at Pflugerville’s Windermere Elementary School, free of the students who will file into their first day of class in less than a week, reverberated with fake gunshots against fake bad guys Friday as 20 soon-to-be school marshals tested their training.
The Texas Commission on Law Enforcement hosted its fifth round of school marshal training of the summer, which kicked off Aug. 4 at Windermere this week. A sixth round of training will begin Aug. 18.
Those interested in being a school marshal must work in a school district, have a license to carry a firearm and pass a psychiatric evaluation before they go through 80 hours of hands-on training. They then receive a school marshal license, said Gretchen Grigsby, the commission’s director of governmental relations. School marshals carry concealed weapons on campuses and must have their firearm in a lockbox if they are leading a classroom, said Michael Antu, the commission’s director of special services and enforcement.
Demand for marshal training from school districts increased greatly this year after two notable school shootings, including one in Texas at Santa Fe High School near Galveston that left 10 dead in May, Grigsby said. Since 2014, the commission had held just nine training sessions. This summer alone, the group held six rounds of sessions across the state.
Texas started the summer with 33 school marshals, and it now has 71. As many as 94 more are going through the certification process, Grigsby said.
She said the commission will spend $114,000 on four of the training sessions, which covers instructors, protective equipment, travel funds and ammunition. The governor’s office is expected to reimburse the commission, she said.
Anyone working at a district can volunteer to be a school marshal. Educators, school board members and other administrators were training Friday, but chose not to be identified so they could be anonymous once back at school in a few weeks.
“We want our educational environment to look the same and that’s why we conceal,” said a school marshal trainee from a district in Southeast Texas. “We want to make sure that when our kids come back, that we’re ensuring them we have safety measures in place and that we don’t divulge those to everyone we meet because that would undermine what we’re trying to accomplish.”
The marshal trainee said his district discussed the possibility of school marshals for a year before deciding to send him through the program. Most of the school marshal trainees do not have a law enforcement or military background, Antu said.
Antu said none of the 20 trainees in Pflugerville is from the Austin area.
Two trainees Friday said they had experience with firearms through hunting or already owning a gun. But subduing a shooter, which is a school marshal’s main task in a crisis event, requires specialized techniques and skills.
“I have learned a tremendous amount of techniques and skills this week that I’d never been exposed to,” one trainee said. “Our biggest fear, actually, is having to use our training. We hope we never have to use this training. If something as dire as an active shooter were to happen, we want to make sure to be prepared.”
The other marshal trainee said he went through the training to see what it’s like before he sent other interested educators to become school marshals.
“What pushed us over the edge was the shooting in Santa Fe,” he said, adding he would recommend the training.
During the 80 hours of training, the would-be marshals attend lectures and practice live scenarios. They discuss when they should shoot their firearm and when they shouldn’t, Antu said.
Scenarios demonstrated Friday used rubber training guns. In one drill, “students” cleared out of a classroom and marshal trainees entered the room with their guns drawn, communicating by yelling “clear!” when a corner of the room was safe.
A second demonstration used simulated ammunition, which Grigsby described as more than a paintball but less than an actual bullet.
Marshal trainees acted out a scenario in which some were students, another was a “bad guy” and two were defenders. The defenders had to discern which were students with their hands up and who was the bad guy.
“It’s intense, but it’s intended to be,” commission director Kim Vickers said.