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Austin ISD looking to hire dozens of school resource officers | #schoolsaftey

AUSTIN, Texas — Austin ISD (AISD) is moving forward with adding more armed security guards to every school in the district. The move is so the district can comply with a new state law going into effect next month.

House Bill 3 (HB 3) requires every school in Texas to have an armed security guard and provide mental health training for certain employees. It takes effect on Sept. 1.

The new law was passed more than a year after the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde. Jacob Reach, Austin ISD’s chief of governmental relations and board services, said he understands the legislation’s timing but said the money the district is getting from the State won’t cover all of its needs.

AISD leaders said the district may need to hire as many as 89 school resource officers (SROs) to be fully compliant with the law. They expect to prioritize schools by size, need and current safety concerns to move officers to where they’re most necessary until they can hire all the help they need.

The district is expecting $2 million from the State to make the hires happen. But the cost could be as high as $8 million between salaries, equipment and specialized training. 

Another concern is from parents. Some say officers in the school could increase anxiety for students. District police say they have several programs to help with that. 

“We currently do Coffee With a Cop throughout the school year,” Austin ISD PD Lt. Wayne Sneed said at the Board of Trustees’ information session on Thursday. “We go to various elementary schools, primarily, and we put the parents out of school for coffee. We talk to parents about what it is that we do. We [also] do Read Across America [where] we’re going to schools to read to the students.”

Because the total cost to hire more SROs is about $8 million, district leaders say they will have to look at other budget resources. This could mean taking money away from classrooms, which some don’t agree with. 

School boards can file for a “good cause” exemption from HB 3’s requirements because they can’t afford them or they can’t find someone to fill the positions. But,those that file for an exemption have to develop an “alternative standard,” like a school marshal or an armed staff member.

However, in Thursday’s information session, AISD leaders said they’re not considering arming teachers.

“[Legislators are] reacting as they should to what happened in Uvalde,” said Edna Butts, AISD’s general counsel. “And if we don’t comply and we have a good cause exemption, even though there may not be any sanctions against us, well, the public will look to us and say, ‘well, why didn’t you?’ if something like Uvalde happens.”

HB 3 goes into effect on Sept. 1, but local school districts are trying to get ahead of that deadline.

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