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Following Uvalde tragedy, more schools sign up for school marshal program

"I don't want a Uvalde anywhere. I will do anything & everything to protect my kids," said Cody Patton of Harrold ISD, where staff and educators can conceal carry.

HARROLD, Texas — Cody Patton is no stranger to having a defensive game plan. The former defensive tackle at Texas Tech is now the current superintendent at Harrold ISD. Harrold is a small rural town a few miles from the Texas-Oklahoma border.

"Years ago it was a booming town...not a whole lot anymore," said Todd Box. "If you blink, you'll miss it," laughed Patton.

Harrold ISD has a full enrollment of around 100 school children from kindergarten through 12th grade. The students who come to the iconic century-old schoolhouse vastly outnumber the number of people in town. 

"When they walk into that building they become my kids," said Patton, a second-year superintendent.

Patton inherited an ISD that already had a program to help secure the students at Harrold: the Guardian program which allows educators and staff to conceal carry. The district is one of the first in the state to let teachers conceal carry on campus. He won't say how many staff and educators are armed for safety reasons. He told WFAA he likes the element of "surprise."

"The Texas School Guardian Program was developed by Jeff Sellers in 2009 as an effort for schools to have an armed defensive approach to an active shooter on campus for the critical period, which is the time from when a shooting begins until law enforcement arrives," read an online description of the program.

The ability to conceal carry is the reason Box took a job here. And he had his two daughters enroll soon after.

"What's better than having your own personal armed guard with you at school all day," said Box who is the district bus driver and head of maintenance. Harrold, a ranch and farming town, is not like other towns or districts. In the event of an active shooter, the nearest peace officer is at least 15 minutes away at the Wilbarger County Sheriff's Office in Vernon. To Patton, that's 15 minutes too far and so arming teachers is their way of adapting to a frightening new normal.

"Those seconds tick on that timer; almost a round or two is being fired every second," said Patton.

But this year Patton and his staff are going beyond the Guardian program and some are being trained to be school marshals. TCOLE, or the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement, leads school marshal training every year. In fact, after the tragedy in Uvalde TCOLE has offered more opportunities for courses. Patton says the state covers the cost of the training while the district covers travel and boarding.

"I would have never thought we'd be at this point that we'd be training educators to carry guns to help be a stop-gap for us," said Janna Atkins, TCOLE Commissioner and 35 years in law enforcement.

There are 256 school marshals licensed across 62 districts. After the tragedy in Uvalde 11 more districts in the state have signed up for training. By the start of the school year, Harrold ISD will have both the Guardian program and trained school marshals. School marshal training requires 80 hours of class and scenario-based training. 

"They can neutralize a threat, they can use deadly force, they can arrest put handcuffs on," said Atkins. She stresses that a marshal officer is like a peace officer but only in cases of serious bodily injury or death.

"I don't want a Uvalde anywhere. I will do anything and everything to protect my students and my kids," said Patton.

    

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