Harrold school district to staff: Pack your pistols
Small Texas school district lets teachers, staff pack pistols | News | Star-Telegram.com
By MARK AGEErmagee@star-telegram.com
When classes start Aug. 25 at 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 permits. 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 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 unprecedented in elementary or secondary schools.
Harrold Superintendent David Thweatt said a main concern was that the small community is a 30-minute drive from the county sheriff’s office, leaving students and teachers without protection.
Although Harrold is a small town, the district’s campussits 500 feet from heavily trafficked U.S. 287, which could make it a target, he said.
There are other security measures already in place, including only one way to enter the school, state-of-the-art surveillance cameras and electric locks on doors. But after the Virginia Tech massacre and the Pennsylvania Amish shooting, Thweatt said he felt he had to take further action.
"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."
"Our philosophy here is to be prepared," he said.
Texas law explicitly outlaws firearms on school campuses "unless pursuant to the written regulations or written authorization of the institution."
Thweatt said did not reveal how many of the about 50 teachers and staff members would 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 that Harrold is the first district he knows of to take such a step.
"It’s definitely the exception, not the rule," Trump said. "It’s rare, if not non-existent."
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."
"On the surface, it may sound like a solution to a difficult problem of the sheriff being 30 minutes way, but they have taken on a huge responsibility," he continued. "If an accident or an incident occurs, they’re going to have some tough questions to answer."
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 that won’t happen here. But who would have seen it coming in Virginia or Pennsylvania? Or at Columbine?" he said. "If something were to happen here, I’d much rather be calling a parent to tell them that their child is okay 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.
A dose of common sense. Lets hope this spreads!