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How does the Guardian Plan work in Texas schools?

The guardian plan isn't new. Many schools have adopted the plan for extra protection on their campuses.

TYLER, Texas — The largest school district in East Texas is arming teachers and staff in an effort to add security to ensure student safety on campus.

On Aug. 4, the Tyler ISD adopted the Guardian Plan during a trustee board workshop. Tyler ISD is the latest district to adopt the Guardian Plan, where it is more commonplace in some areas of deeper East Texas.

"We've had the Guardian Program in place since 2014," Carthage Independent School District Superintendent Jarrod Bitters said. "So actually, a pretty early adopter in terms of the Guardian program."

The Guardian Plan is designed to give staff a quicker response to serious threats, like having an active shooter on campus.

"It's in place for us to defend our students as quickly as possible until a full law enforcement response can arrive on the same," Bitters said.

In rural parts of the state, response times from law enforcement can be upwards of 15 minutes, which Pine Tree Independent School District Safety and Security and Transportation Director Jack Irvin says is detrimental in active shooting scenarios.

"We could not bear the thought of not having first responders there within two or three minutes," Irvin said. "We had to come up with a plan, a stop-gap, to shield and insulate our children and our staff."

Pine Tree ISD enacted the Guardian Plan two years ago. In that time, the district has trained and prepared many teachers and staff, called "guardians", to step in as they await police response. Training within the program is extensive and not every applicant is selected to be a guardian.

"Not just because you applied to be a guardian that we're going to authorize you to do that," explained Irvin. "There's a great deal of vetting that goes into it."

Potential guardians are interviewed by school administrators, where they are screened for physical ability and psychological demands. Once a potential guardian is selected by the administration, they are sent to the training course. 

Paul Howe is a combat shooting and tactical trainer based in Nacogdoches, where he has trained guardians for 10 school districts across the state of Texas.

"What happens is we like to do two-day marksmanship with handguns, and then break it up, give a little breathing room and then do a three-day tactical," Howe said.

Howe explained that the guardians learn everything about their weapon; staying on target in a crisis; and how to give medical care if a child or adult nearby is wounded during the course.

"It's a huge responsibility, and it's ongoing training each year," Irvin said. "They can go to a little bit higher level, and it may take multiple years to get them up to...what we say is 'fully trained.'"

Many school districts are choosing to opt-in for this program due to a rise in gun violence inside schools, including the May 24 school shooting in Uvalde. It took 77 minutes for law enforcement officers to take down the shooter, which led to the deaths of 19 children and two teachers.

"We have to address the threats, in the fastest time possible," Howe said.

Mentioned earlier, Tyler ISD approved the Guardian Plan in the beginning of August. This makes them the largest school district in East Texas to have adopted the plan.

"It's just another layer a quicker layer response, if, by some chance, some crazy chance, we actually have this happen," Superintendent Marty Crawford said.

Crawford said although the district has a good relationship with law enforcement partners and a large school district-specific police department, he explained that some of the schools within the district are in areas where the response time may be slower.

"I feel like it's my obligation to do the best we possibly can to protect everyone else's children while they give us their precious kiddos, and I think we're doing a pretty good job of it, but there's always room for enhancement," Crawford said.

Even with the approval to adopt the Guardian Plan, it will take time for the district to fully implement it across schools. Applicants must be interviewed and then trained once approved. 

The following statements are from two large school districts within East Texas on if they plan to enact the Guardian Plan.

Lufkin Independent School District

"The Guardian program is not a feasible option for our school district. With our on-campus police force in place, we are not creating a policy to arm teachers. We also have a close working relationship with Lufkin PD. We are taking measures in reviewing all our Emergency Operations Plans which include training and preparedness."

Nacogdoches Independent School District:

"Nacogdoches ISD is not a Guardian district. We have our own district police force and strong relationships with Nacogdoches-area law enforcement. NISD is reviewing all of its procedures and practices at campuses and facilities and is also putting into place directives from Texas Education Agency. NISD and its police department are working with Nacogdoches-area law enforcement to map out strategies to respond to all hazards, including those similar to the tragedy that took place in Uvalde.”

Longview Independent School District was reached out to for comment, but did not respond by the time of publication. 

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