Community members came together for a discussion on how to keep our schools safe during a recent KTXS town hall meeting at Wylie’s Performing Arts Center.
A panel of four professionals addressed everything from mental health issues to the school marshal program during the hour-long town hall called Securing Our Schools.
Wylie assistant superintendent Craig Bessent was a member of the panel. Bessent has become a statewide leader in the effort to keep schools safe.
Other panel members were AISD Superintendent Dr. David Young, Abilene Police Chief Stan Standridge and Texas Representative Stan Lambert.
The audience was allowed to ask questions, and the television station also took questions from social media. The discussion was broadcast live on KTXS.
Many of the questions dealt with teaching character education in the schools, something both Bessent and Young said is being done.
“We are talking a lot about character education,” Bessent said. “We are really spending time on that, and we are going to go back and teach people how to treat others. We are starting at the pre-K level and going to go all the way through the high school.”
When asked if character education was something new for teachers, Bessent said teachers have always taught character.
“I’ve been in education for 38 years, and I think our teachers have always taught kids how to behave and how to be good citizens,” he said. “Maybe our society’s changed.”
One audience member asked about the role of counselors in the schools. Young said counselors need more time to develop one-on-one relationships with students.
“We have to let our counselors be counselors,” he said. “We have to get a handle on the other logistical tasks that they are asked to complete so they can focus on the needs of our children.”
Several people asked about the school marshal program, and Standridge explained the difference between SROs, the school marshal program and the guardian program.
School Resource Officers are police officers who are assigned to work at schools full time. Abilene has eight SRO’s – one in the Wylie district and seven at AISD campuses. However, Standridge said the police department does not have the manpower to add more SROs, and the current SROs are responsible for multiple campuses.
“If we wanted a Resource Officer on every campus, it isn’t going to happen,” Standridge said. “The school marshal program is your best alternative. Your APD is very supportive of the school marshal program.”
A school marshal program allows for school marshals who carry guns to be on each campus. The school marshals receive similar training as police officers. Wylie currently has at least one on every campus.
Standridge said the guardian program allows anyone who has a concealed handgun license to bring a gun to school.
“I can’t really support the guardian program because there aren’t enough safety checks and balances in that program,” Standridge said. “The school marshal program is very robust, and we are very supportive.”
Bessent said the biggest difference in the two programs is the amount of training. He said the APD helps train school marshals, who go through extensive amounts of training, not only in gun use, but in specific school situations. That is why Wylie uses the school marshal program, NOT the guardian program.
“It’s all about training,” Bessent said.
One audience member also wanted to know how society could hold parents more responsible for keeping the guns in their homes away from children.
“I think you will see some legislation that will hold parents more responsible,” Lambert said. “They will be held responsible if something tragic does occur.”
Lambert said the legislature also will be looking at mental health issues and bullying.
Standridge said he liked the town hall meeting because the community needs to be involved in the solutions, whether it is reporting bullying or noticing unusual behavior or educating families on gun safety and mental health issues. He said government can only do so much.
“Government can never fully regulate life – families should,” he said. “Systems don’t do what families should. I’m not sure that government can fill that role.”
But Standridge said the police department will continue to work closely with the two schools to do everything possible to protect Abilene children.
“We work closely together,” he said. “Their success is our success and vice versa.”