A key aspect of House Bill 3, the school safety law passed by the Texas Legislature this year, requires districts to assign armed personnel at every campus. The following are answers to frequently asked questions about armed security officers in HB 3.
What Does HB 3 Require?
HB 3, effective Sept. 1, 2023, added new Texas Education Code section 37.0814, requiring each school board to determine the appropriate number of armed security officers for each district campus and, absent a good cause exception, ensure at least one armed security officer — specifically, a commissioned peace officer — is present during regular school hours at each campus. A school board can claim a good cause exception to this requirement due to lack of funding or qualified personnel.
Can a District Comply by Having Individuals Other Than Commissioned Peace Officers Present at Each Campus During Regular School Hours?
No, not without first claiming a good cause exception. The statute states that an armed security officer described by Section 37.0814(a) must be: (1) a school district peace officer, (2) a school resource officer (SRO), or (3) a commissioned peace officer employed as security personnel.
Who Is a School District Peace Officer?
A school district peace officer is a district employee licensed by the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement and commissioned by the district. This option is available only if the district has its own police department.
Who Is an SRO?
An SRO is a commissioned peace officer employed by another commissioning entity (e.g., county sheriff, city police department) who is assigned to a specific school district through a memorandum of understanding (MOU). The officer works for the commissioning entity, not the school district.
Who Is a Commissioned Peace Officer Employed as Security Personnel?
Texas Education Code section 37.081 states that a school board has four options for employing security personnel:
- Employing or contracting with security personnel
- Entering into an MOU for SROs provided by a local law enforcement agency or a city or county that employs commissioned peace officers
- Contracting with a security services contractor licensed under Texas Occupations Code chapter 1702 for a commissioned security officer who has completed the Department of Public Safety Level II or III training course
- Commissioning its own peace officers
What Counts as a Campus?
The Texas Education Agency has informally indicated that a campus is defined as a facility that has its own unique campus ID number registered with TEA, an assigned administrator, enrolled students who are counted for average daily attendance, and assigned instructional staff; receives federal and/or state and/or local funds as its primary support; provides instruction in the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills; has one or more grade groups in the range from early education through grade 12; and is not a program for students enrolled in another public school, provides only virtual instruction, or uses only facilities not subject to the district’s control. If, based on TEA’s understanding of the term campus, a school board determines it is best to have one commissioned peace officer serving more than one campus, the board should seek a good cause exception and choose an alternative standard that allows a single officer to be shared by two or more campuses in immediate proximity.
What Counts as Being Present?
If a commissioned peace officer is not assigned full time to the campus, the board should seek a good cause exception. School district police department schedules, MOUs for SROs, and contracts with security companies should provide coverage when an officer is on leave.
What Are Regular School Hours?
The phrase is not defined in law and may be addressed in future regulations. For now, if an officer will not be present during regular instructional hours, a school board should pursue a good cause exception.
How Does a School Board Claim a Good Cause Exception?
The new statute does not address the mechanics, but clearly the law calls for board action, and a board resolution makes the most sense. TASB Legal Services has provided a sample resolution on eSource.
What Is in an Alternative Standard?
If the board claims a good cause exception, the board must provide an alternative standard that may include reliance on a school marshal or an employee or contracted individual who has completed the handgun safety course required for handgun license holders and is authorized to carry a firearm by the district (often called a “guardian” in school board policy). Each district must create and maintain documentation of its compliance with this section.
How Much Detail Should the Board Share Publicly about Its Safety Plans, Including Its Alternative Standard?
Board action must take place through a formal vote in a posted public meeting. Beyond that, the details of the district’s security plans can be protected. The board may meet in closed session to deliberate its security audit or the deployment, or specific occasions for implementation, of security personnel or devices. Tex. Gov’t Code § 551.076.
The board may also meet in closed session to deliberate security assessments or deployments relating to security personnel. Tex. Gov’t Code § 551.089. In addition, the Texas Public Information Act protects the confidentiality of certain school district records, including new protections in HB 3, and information held by a school district police department, the disclosure of which would hinder law enforcement. Tex. Gov’t Code § 552.108.
Where Can We Look for Further Guidance?
TASB Legal Services has published resources for compliance with HB 3 and other school safety topics. Districts are also encouraged to pay close attention to TEA’s guidance and webinars. To the extent any TEA guidance contradicts this FAQ, TASB defers completely to TEA.
This document is provided for educational purposes and contains information to facilitate a general understanding of the law. References to judicial or other official proceedings are intended to be a fair and impartial account of public records, which may contain allegations that are not true. This publication is not an exhaustive treatment of the law, nor is it intended to substitute for the advice of an attorney. Consult your own attorney to apply these legal principles to specific fact situations.
This article was first published in the November 2023 issue of Texas Lone Star.