Port Arthur Independent School District safety plan options shared

Published 12:20 am Sunday, August 27, 2023

Trustees with Port Arthur Independent School District on Monday will learn more about an armed security officer requirement and a possible good cause exemption that provides alternative ways to adhere to a new state law.

House Bill 3 becomes effective Sept. 1 and requires school boards to determine the number of armed security officers for each district campus to ensure at least one armed security officer is present during the regular school hours at each campus, outgoing PAISD Police Chief Alton Baise said.

But, he said, a school board can claim a good cause exception to this requirement due to lack of funding to fulfill the requirement or if school leader cannot find qualified personnel.

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Superintendent Dr. Mark Porterie said if a school board can claim good cause it must provide an alternative plan that may include commissioned peace officers, school marshal or school guardian.

Therein lies a problem.

Port Arthur Independent School District Police Chief Alton Baise, right, and Assistant Chief Eugene Wilson explain the good cause exemption to House Bill 3. (Mary Meaux/The News)

Hiring police officers for 15 campuses is virtually impossible at this time, Porterie said.

“Not only are we competing with 1,200 districts in the State of Texas that are trying to follow the mandate and cover their schools, we are also competing with police departments trying to get officers in their own division,” he said.

PAISD’s police department does not have enough officers to cover 15 campuses.

That leaves two options. One is for the district to go with a school marshal.

“The Marshal Program is not a new program, it’s been in existence since 2018-2019 and originally was to have armed personnel in the school without nobody knowing. An armed marshal is most times concealed,” Assistant Chief Eugene Wilson said.

They must have eight hours of training by a licensed TCOLE handgun instructor and must hold a concealed handgun license permit.

The district must first sponsor the person and send them through the program.

PAISD Trustee Taylor Getwood, left, Vice-President Kenneth Lofton Sr., Superintendent Dr. Mark Porterie and President Brandon Bartie listen as School District Police Chief Alton Baise explains the new law. (Mary Meaux/The News)

Baise said the second option is sponsoring a school guardian, which is a person who is an employee of the district who has undergone 16 hours of training by a licensed certified handgun instructor and has been certified in school safety.

“Let me repeat that,” Baise said. “This is 16 hours of training by a licensed certified handgun instructor, not just a handgun instructor, that handgun instructor must be certified in school safety, as well. It can’t just teach you tactics of how to shoot and just cut you loose in school. That’s not the way to do it. It has to be certified in school safety.”

The school guardian must also hold a concealed handgun license permit.

Baise advised the board of trustees to hold their discussions in a closed session with the district’s attorney present.

Once a path is chosen, whether School Marshal Program or School Guardian Program, those people’s names should be kept private for safety reasons, he added.

The district will have two years to implement the chosen program.

PAISD trustees on Thursday named the incoming district police chief — Howard Sylve III.

Sylvie will take over when Baise leaves at the end of the month, Porterie said.

The new chief comes with an associate’s and bachelor’s degrees in criminal justice. He helped start the Wiley College Police Department, where he served as director and chief and has served as chief deputy constable for Precinct 1 in Jefferson County.

In addition, he has patrol experience, police supervision experience, served as a criminal investigator and U.S. Army military police as well as being a TCOLE instructor, de-escalation instructor, firearms instructor and pepper spray instructor, Porterie said.

Porterie said the district campuses are secure but officials continue to look for ways to make security better.

“To us it will never be perfect,” Porterie said. “We continually try to strengthen what we are doing, learning something new every day.”

The district embraces and accepts the new law and wants to implement everything to the letter of the law and go beyond that, he said.

“There is nothing more precious than a life,” he said.

PAISD will hold a special meeting at 5:30 p.m. Monday at the administration building to discuss and declare a good cause exception for HB 3.