Crossroads schools weigh in on teachers carrying concealed guns
By BY J.R. ORTEGA - JRORTEGA@VICAD.COM
Jan. 26, 2013 at 10:01 p.m.
Updated Jan. 26, 2013 at 7:27 p.m.
Two small Crossroads school districts are enforcing one big decision - allowing teachers to carry concealed handguns in their classrooms.
Ganado and Louise school boards joined at least three other Texas school districts by allowing staff members to arm themselves on campus.
But do those decisions have enough impact to change how other Crossroads school boards view campus security?
For proponents and opponents alike, the controversy over such policies is packing a lot of heat.
Paving the way
The change started in Ganado, a sleepy town nestled along U.S. Highway 59 with a population of less than 3,000 and an even smaller school district enrollment.
Ganado residents call the community a quiet, safe place to raise children, but rural schools have worries as well. Can law enforcement respond fast enough to an active shooting? What can be done to make Ganado's campuses as safe as possible?
Superintendent Jeff Black raised those questions to the school board, and now the district is in a new chapter of Texas school history.
"The incident in Connecticut with the principal and counselor running toward the shots with no resources - other than their lives - to stop the intruder was the final turning point for us to really consider this an option," Black wrote in an email.
The policy passed during the school board's Jan. 17 meeting. It comes with strict guidelines, Black said.
The board will authorize which school employees can carry a weapon. Staff members must also complete testing for competency as well as receive training each year.
The name of those carrying guns will be kept confidential.
"While no one was excited that the school was considering this option, the vast majority of the input we all received was that they wanted us to do all that we could to keep their children and our employees as safe as possible," he said.
The same decision was made Monday by the Louise school district, said Superintendent Michael Seabolt.
The two districts unknowingly were considering the decision at the same time.
Both districts are still weeks to months away from actually designating which staff members may carry a weapon.
Seabolt said he felt it was time to respond to the growing number of shootings.
"We're still in the preliminary stages," he said.
The push stems from the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in December. Several factors were weighed while considering the policy.
Louise, an even smaller town than Ganado, does not have a police department, which worries some residents. Also, funding for higher-end security is limited.
For these reasons, concealed handguns make sense, the two superintendents agreed.
"It has become obvious that the entire concept of gun-free zones actually creates kill zones, not safe zones," Seabolt said.
Ganado's decision is one 24-year-old Melissa Rucker stands behind.
Rucker, who has two children - one in kindergarten and another beginning school in August - just wants her kids to be safe.
Rucker wants to prevent what happened at Sandy Hook from happening anywhere else.
Still, she hates to think about what schools have become, especially when it's impacting smaller communities such as Ganado, a community she trusts and feels safe in.
"I've never thought about something like that happening in Ganado," she said. "I think it was a smart choice for the school."
Rucker has several guns in her household and has made gun safety a priority, she said.
"Guns are a way to protect everybody," she added.
Ganado Police Chief Rodney Roberson is a 25-year veteran in public safety and says he believes the decision the school board made is a step in the right direction.
He suggested that plenty of civilian firearm courses adequately prepare people for active shooter situations. He and his department are willing to help with additional free training.
"I don't think you can overprepare for any type of disaster or emergency," he said. "I hope it never comes to where we would have a situation."
Though Roberson's department is only blocks away from the school, a lot could be done to stop a gunman, he said.
"I believe they are being proactive instead of reactive," he said.
Some parents such as Regina Alvarez, 31, are conflicted with the decision.
While she wants her children to be as safe as possible, she dislikes that schools have come to the point where guns are needed to keep children safe.
"We live in a safe community, and we've never had a problem before," said Alvarez, who was born and raised in Ganado. "I understand situations happen and you can't predict the future. ... Honestly, I don't think it's good to have."
Alvarez's children are in junior high and elementary school and, like her, don't know how to operate a gun.
"I don't like guns or even toy guns," she said.
Kenneth Trump, president of National School Safety and Security Services, is familiar with the arguments and thinks the debate has spun out of control.
"Gun-control advocates have shamelessly seized upon Sandy Hook to push their political agenda," said Trump, who has been featured on many national media outlets for his stern opposition to guns in school.
Schools should look at hiring armed police officers - whether it be a larger district with its own police force or a smaller district with one security resource officer.
"Teachers want to be armed with textbooks and computers. They (teachers and police officers) should not be interchanging professional disciplines," he said. "When you're tasking them to protect the masses, then you're asking them to perform a public safety function."
Trump said he worries about the high risk and liability of arming staff members, who could likely shoot a student accidentally or lose the gun.
"It's a national embarrassment that we haven't had more concrete discussions from our legislators about legislation programs and funding to help deal with this," he said.
Other Crossroads schools
Other districts in the Crossroads are not as quick to jump on board with concealed handguns on campus.
Victoria school district has chosen not to take up the issue but has taken action to review and improve its security measures, said spokeswoman Diane Boyett.
"I can say that the school district has been very carefully studying the safety and security of every one of our campuses," Boyett said.
Meanwhile, Bloomington's school district, which is about the size of Ganado's district, has thought about the possibility. But the board is nowhere near putting the issue on the agenda, said Superintendent Delores Warnell.
"I don't support it personally," Warnell said. "Maybe in a perfect world it would work."
There are too many unknowns that could happen from introducing guns to schools, so Warnell has taken a different route.
Although she opposes concealed guns on campus, she and the board, like VISD, are enhancing security by taking certain measures.
The schools have security fencing, cameras and a deputy. The schools also are taking basic precautions such as locked doors with an intercom system.
"We are a very safe district and take steps to make sure of that," she said, adding guns would be an absolute last resort. "I'm hoping we don't have to get to that point."
The future of schools
The future measures that will be taken to make schools safer are still unknown.
While leaders and voters continue to bicker over what should be done, the idea is also taking center stage in the Texas Legislature under Senate Bill 182.
The bill would impact colleges and universities by allowing adult concealed handgun licensees to carry on Texas campuses.
The state Senate passed the legislation once in 2009 and again as an amendment to a higher education bill in 2011, but both times it failed to be considered in the state House.
Since then, Texas colleges and universities have had their own shootings, including at the University of Texas at Austin and, most recently, at the Lone Star College North Harris campus.
Sen. Glenn Hegar, who represents District 18, is one of the 14 co-authors of the bill but could not be reached Friday for comment.
One thing is certain: Schools are facing serious questions about school safety, and the answers are not clear.
"Collectively, both sides of the argument have skewed the national debate, taking away the focus to be really anything meaningful to help principals on the front line better secure their buildings and delete general anxiety that exists out in the schools," Trump said.