TUSCOLA, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – Just a day after the Uvalde school shooting, parents across the state anxiously dropped their children off at school, not knowing what might happen. Some Jim Ned parents, though, felt some peace of mind.

As school let in and let out Wednesday across Taylor County, there was heightened presence guarding the entrances to the schools. Officers with the Taylor County Sheriff’s Office (TCSO) had their vehicles parked, monitoring the traffic flow as an extra measure to keep students and teachers safe.

For Chelynne Barkley, a parent of two Jim Ned elementary schoolers, it was with a worrisome heart she dropped off her children at school.

“We don’t want to take our kids to school when something like this happens,” Barkley said. “It’s fresh and scary, and it’s alarming. I mean, I felt a lot of comfort in knowing that the Sheriff’s Department was there and they were protecting that school.” 

Barkley and her family are new to the Tuscola area, having moved to the smaller town from Odessa, Texas, in the efforts to get her kids in a smaller school district. However, just as they got settled in, a shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde happened, killing 19 innocent children the same ages as hers.

In Odessa, Barkley said there had been shootings before, but none hit home quite like the Uvalde shooting, as the thought of the same thing happening to her kids or mother, who also works in the Odessa school system.

“You just wake up and you feel blessed and fortunate to have your kids with you and they’re safe,” Barkley said. “But also, it’s not just our kids in the school. It’s our family, our neighbors and friends. We worry about all of them.”

While she is new to the district, Barkley said she’s glad the school is taking preventative measures. Measures like doing drills, having exterior doors locked at all times and having a buzzer system up front.

“We lock the doors and then we go into a corner. We turn all the lights off, all the computers off and we just stand a corner where, if a shooter was to look through the door, they can’t see us,” Peyton Hill said.

Hill, a junior at Jim Ned High School, said between doing the drills and having those safety measures in place, she feels very confident in the preparedness Jim Ned has taken ahead of an emergency.

It’s the unexpectedness of an active shooter that worries Hill, because it could be any of her peers, her friends. Hill included that she wished the school would do more drills to keep it fresher on the mind.

However, she said Jim Ned initiated a state-regulated program that gives her a lot of confidence in the event should an active shooter enter her school.

“We felt more protected and like the teachers had our backs,” Hill said. “So we didn’t have to feel like we were at a loss when it came to defending ourselves in that type of situation.”

The School Marshals Program is regulated, certified and trained through the State of Texas. This allows schools to work with their local law enforcement to allow teachers to carry a firearm on school premises.

Jim Ned Superintendent Glen Teal said it partners with TCSO and the School Resource Officer to help train its staff. He said each marshal goes through 80 hours of law enforcement training, having to retake courses every two years to keep the certification, as well as specialized local scenario training.

“We arm employees who are willing and able, and well-trained by the state of Texas to provide law enforcement on our campuses,” Teal said. “But protect their identity and the number of [certified teachers] so that, again, we can respond anonymously when called upon.”

Teal said parents in the area know of the marshals across Jim Ned’s campuses, but do not know the identities to keep the teachers, faculty and students safe from harm outside of school.

He also said, as the school district continues to grow at a rate of about 10%, they can add more marshals as they see fit.

“I just feel blessed that we live in a community where our community responds so quickly to that type of situation when it’s so close to home,” Barkley said.

Aside from Jim Ned, KTAB/KRBC confirmed that Wylie and Merkel ISDs use similar systems. However, Teal said he believes many of the rural schools across the Big Country have similar marshal or guardian programs in place.