Armed Teachers: The Debate 2/18/13
CBS 7 News
February 18, 2013
It’s the quintessential Texas town adorned with golden fields and towering silos.
But along this stretch of lonely tracks between Amarillo and Wichita Falls lies a tiny school that’s standing out among the rest.
It’s not the trophies that shine the halls, but the handguns teachers may be carrying.
“We stuck a sign in front of our schools in 1990 making schools gun-free zones-- basically saying “Here are our most precious possessions—come and hurt them if you want to,” said Harrold ISD superintendent David Thweatt. “And we need sign now that says, “We love our children and they’re protected—I dare ya!”
At the time, there were cameras and magnetic locked doors, but Thweatt says the Amish school massacre and the shooting rampage at Virginia Tech convinced he and his school board more had to be done.
School board president Dale Owen said the board had a healthy discussion about teachers carrying guns, but it was a unanimous decision once they came to a conclusion.
To take part in the Guardian Plan: a teacher must have a CHL, be approved by the school board and undergo additional training.
“Our teachers are trained more in accuracy than police officers,” said Thweatt.
And the “Guardians” must use frangible ammunition that breaks apart on impact to prevent the risk of ricocheted bullets.
“One of the advantages of the guardian plan is it has redundancy in the system unlike the one security guard. We also have people to back up others. But we also have them placed strategically throughout the building,” said Thweatt.
The policy has grabbed the attention of other school districts, media and the ears of critics.
Thweatt said arguments range from teachers who could turn on their students—to the idea the policy promotes violence.
“These little kids just went back to school in Connecticut. They are surrounded by armed guards. They are constantly reminded they are not safe. They are constantly seeing guns. You want to talk about teaching violence? I think that would come closer than what we’re doing,” said Thweatt.
And even 350 miles away, talks of the guardian plan and other firearm policies are echoing the halls of our state’s capitol.
Republican state representative Jason Villalba of Dallas said after the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting, he decided to file a bill that would allow schools to appoint school marshals for emergency situations.
“It’s different from a teacher carry because this individual who is serving as a school marshal would not have a weapon on their person at all moments in time,” said Representative Villalba. “They would have a weapon at their disposal under lock and key within their immediate reach.”
The decision came after the Representative brainstormed with school administrators and parents in his district.
“They are uncomfortable with having CHL carriers around children for a number of reasons—it’s controversial—that’s why there’s an objection. So we thought we would craft a narrow tailored solution for that,” said Representative Villalba.
“What I’d really like to see is personally is that they talk to people who’ve been through these incidences, people who survived Newtown, affected by that tragedy, people that were affected by Virginia Tech,” said John Wood, lead organizer of Students for Gun-Free School in Texas.
He and the members of the group are all survivors of the Virginia Tech shooting.
“So I lost my girlfriend, and that’s my interest in this,” said Wood. “I just don’t want to see them do something that will make people less safe when there are solutions out there that could improve public safety, improve school safety.”
Wood says guns in the classroom are not the answer.
He feels guns belong in the hands of trained and licensed police officers patrolling the halls.
And the feeling is mutual closer to home in Big Spring ISD.
“As a superintendent, I don’t know how comfortable I would be asking my teachers here in Big Spring to carry a gun into the classroom,” said Big Spring superintendent Dr. Steven Saldivar.
He said he’s confident in the safety plan the district already has in place.
“I find it interesting the state is proposing putting money to provide guns when we’re having trouble provide money to fund other things like for textbooks and other things,” said Dr. Saldivar. “We’re losing teachers as it is—and now we’re going to ask them to carry a gun?”
The only person carrying a gun in Big Spring schools is the school police officer.
And over at Crane ISD, talks of adding a police officer is on the horizon for the three campuses.
“I’m not a giant believer in arming teachers,” said Crane superintendent Larry Lee. “I think our teachers and staff are here to educate kids—that’s what they’re trained to do. I rather have someone that’s trained in crisis intervention and those types of things.”
And unlike Harrold ISD’s 30 minute response time, the Crane police is only two blocks away.
Other local school districts agree with surrounding schools. MISD Superintendent Dr. Ryder Warren said he is not a proponent of arming teachers, and instead believes certified police officers are the solution to keep students safe.
And in Kermit ISD, superintendent Bill Boyd said he is considering hiring a resource officer for the 2A school district.
So even in Texas, with its reputation of lenient gun laws and frontier justice, the idea of teachers taking guns into the classroom rattles some and comforts others.
Nonetheless, it has sparked a debate.