Parents Fund Security at Fort Worth ISD Elementary School

Off-duty FWPD officers provide security at Tanglewood Elementary School

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While most middle schools and high schools have school resource officers, the more than 80 Fort Worth Independent School District elementary schools do not.

However, in the past few months, off-duty Fort Worth police officers have become a familiar face at Tanglewood Elementary.

"We've only gotten positive feedback, especially not just from the parents of the children, but also the staff," Amber Spurgeon said.

Spurgeon is a parent at Tanglewood Elementary. "They feel safer coming to school every day and teaching, and knowing they don't have to look behind their back every day."

Spurgeon is also the founder and president of the nonprofit Texans Against School Violence or TAVS.

"This organization was started by a group of concerned parents. We saw the security gap that we had in our elementary schools in Texas. We needed armed security officers in every school," Spurgeon said. "We are privately funded right now."

According to the nonprofit's website donation tab, "Proceeds from your donation go directly to law enforcement compensation."

So far, the nonprofit has handpicked nearly 10 off-duty Fort Worth Police Officers.

"We're looking at young kids here, five years old. Most of them can't protect themselves," Tracy Carter, spokesperson for the Fort Worth Police Department said. "Our job is to keep these teachers, these kids in this community safe. That's why we're here."

As a third-party entity, TAVS can decide what training officers must have.

"This is off-duty employment for these officers. They're getting officers trained. It was going to take us between a year to get them through the academy and get them out there. So this being a third party that's actually doing this, they can get them out there quicker."

In addition to safety, the focus is also on building trust with students and staff at the elementary school.

"The relationship building and community is the most important along with safety. Safety is paramount," Carter said.

"We have a three-part mission, which is security, community and curriculum," Spurgeon said. "We want to build relationships with these kids, and we didn't want just a warm body in the school. They are not disciplinarians, and they know that. They are there to take care of our children and to nurture them and be a confidant."

The nonprofit has also integrated a curriculum that could serve as a model to other schools and communities. Deputy Chief Buck Wheeler has served as an advisor for TAVS to build that curriculum.

"As TAVS develops this program and they get officers working in these schools, what kind of training is available to make sure that we have the right officers in those schools," Wheeler said. "Whether it be emotional intelligence, conflict resolution, leadership development, our department has all kinds of training."

"We know what we're trying to achieve, but sometimes the best answers in what that solution looks like might come from the people in the community. And that's what we have here," Wheeler said.

Members of TAVS along with Carter and Wheeler traveled to the State Capitol on Monday. Texas lawmakers are looking at several bills that increase school security funding including House Bill 3.

"That's why we went down to the capitol on Monday in support of House Bill 3," Spurgeon said. "It was a great meeting. Everyone was very receptive and was interested in our organization and supportive of it."

House Bill 3, which is authored by State Rep. Dustin Burrows of Lubbock, would require every school in Texas to have an armed security officer.

The bill would provide about $10 per student annually and allocate $15,000 per campus to improve school safety and security such as infrastructure, physical barriers, security equipment and other technology.

Although a step forward, Spurgeon said cost adjustments are needed based on their pilot program.

"We're going to get them some numbers and try to help them on the number side of per student," Spurgeon said.

According to the TAVS website, that figure should be more like $225 annually per child.

Spurgeon hopes their model program will serve as an example for the State of Texas.

"We've got to start somewhere," Spurgeon said. "We've got to start now."

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