In Harrold, a tiny Texas town, children and their parents don’t give much thought to safety at the community’s lone school, mostly because some of the teachers are carrying concealed weapons. The teachers’ mandate is not only to educate the children, but also protect them.
In remote Harrold, the nearest sheriff’s office is 30 minutes away, and people tend to know and trust one another. So the school board voted to let teachers bring guns to school.
“We don’t have money for a security guard, but this is a better solution,” Superintendent David Thweatt said. “A shooter could take out a guard or officer with a visible, holstered weapon, but our teachers have master’s degrees, are older and have had extensive training. And their guns are hidden. We can protect our children.”
Following the unfortunate murder of children at the Connecticut elementary school shooting, lawmakers in a growing number of states including Oklahoma, Missouri, Minnesota, South Dakota and Oregon have said they will consider laws allowing teachers and school administrators to carry firearms at school.
Texas law bans guns in schools unless the school has given written authorisation. Arizona and six other states have similar laws with exceptions for people who have licenses to carry concealed weapons.
Harrold’s school board voted unanimously in 2007 to allow employees to carry weapons. After obtaining a state concealed-weapons permit, each employee who wants to carry a weapon must be approved by the board based on his or her personality and reaction to a crisis, Thweatt said.
Employees also must undergo training in crisis intervention and hostage situations. And they must use bullets that minimise the risk of ricochet, similar to those carried by air marshals on planes.
CaRae Reinisch, who lives in the nearby community of Elliott, said she took her children out of a larger school and enrolled them in Harrold two years ago, partly because she felt they would be safer in a building with armed teachers.
“I think it’s a great idea for trained teachers to carry weapons,” Reinisch said. “But I hate that it has come to this.”
The superintendent won’t disclose how many of the school’s 50 employees carry weapons, saying that revealing that number might jeopardise school security.
The school, about 241 kilometres northwest of Fort Worth near the Oklahoma border, has 103 students from kindergarten through 12th grade. Most of them rarely think about, or remember who is carrying a gun.
“This is the first time in a long time that I’ve thought about it,” said Matt Templeton, the principal’s 17-year-old son. “And that’s because of what happened” in Connecticut.
Thweatt said other Texas schools allow teachers to carry weapons, but he would not reveal their locations, saying they are afraid of negative publicity.
The Texas Education Agency however said it had not heard of any other schools with such a policy. And the Brady Centre to Prevent Gun Violence did not know of any other districts nationwide that allow school employees to carry concealed handguns. [AP]