Posted on Fri, Aug. 15, 2008
Small Texas school district lets teachers, staff pack pistols
By MARK AGEE
When classes start Aug. 25 in the tiny Harrold school district, there will be one distinct difference from years prior: Some of the teachers may have guns.
To deter and protect against school shootings, trustees have altered district policy to allow employees to carry concealed weapons if they have a state permit and permission from the administration. The 110-student district lies 150 miles northwest of Fort Worth on the eastern end of Wilbarger County, near the Oklahoma border.
More than a dozen state legislatures have considered making it legal to carry guns on college campuses, but experts and officials contacted by the Star-Telegram say the move is unheard of in elementary or secondary schools.
Superintendent David Thweatt said a main concern was that the small community is a 30-minute drive from the sheriff’s office, leaving students and teachers without protection.
'To be prepared’
The district’s lone campus sits 500 feet from heavily trafficked U.S. 287, which could make it a target, Thweatt said.
Other security measures are in place, including one-way access to enter the school, state-of-the-art surveillance cameras and electric locks on doors. But after the Virginia Tech massacre and the Amish school shooting in Pennsylvania, Thweatt felt he had to take further action, he said.
"When the federal government started making schools gun-free zones, that’s when all of these shootings started," Thweatt said. "Why would you put it out there that a group of people can’t defend themselves? That’s like saying 'sic ’em’ to a dog."
Texas law outlaws firearms on school campuses "unless pursuant to the written regulations or written authorization of the institution."
Thweatt did not say how many of the 50 or so teachers and staff members will be armed this fall because he doesn’t want students or potential attackers to know. Wilbarger County Sheriff Larry Lee was out of the office Thursday and did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.
Barbara Williams, a spokeswoman for the Texas Association of School Boards, said her organization is not aware of another district doing something similar. Ken Trump, a Cleveland-based school security expert who advises districts nationwide, including in Texas, said Harrold is the first district he knows of to take such a step.
Trump said he would have advised against allowing teachers to arm themselves, if only because of liability concerns. In the long run, it could have been cheaper and safer to hire security or off-duty police, he said. Texas school districts also have the option of forming their own police force, he noted.
"What are the rules for use of force?" Trump said. "Or how about weapons-retention training? Because they could go in to break up a fight in the cafeteria and lose their gun."
Thweatt said the district did not rush into the decision. Officials researched the policy and weighed other options for about a year before trustees voted on the policy in October.
"The naysayers think [a shooting] won’t happen here," he said. "If something were to happen here, I’d much rather be calling a parent to tell them that their child is OK because we were able to protect them."
The gun policy Teachers and staffers in the Harrold school district can carry firearms beginning this fall if they:
Have a Texas license to carry a concealed handgun.
Are authorized to carry by the district.
Receive training in crisis management and hostile situations.
Use ammunition that is designed to minimize the risk of ricochet in school halls.
Source: Harrold school district