The debate over teachers and guns in Texas

Concept of arming teachers is far from new in Texas

By Robert Arnold - Investigative Reporter

HOUSTON - Since the shooting in Parkland, Florida, the issue of better protecting school campuses has intensified. One topic front and center of this debate is whether to arm teachers or other members of school staff.

In Texas, the concept of arming teachers is far from new. Harrold ISD, near Wichita Falls, took this step in 2007 after seeing five children gunned down at an Amish school in Western Pennsylvania.

By 2012, when the Sandy Hook school shooting happened, at least 10 school districts were allowing certain teachers to carry guns on campus, according to notations made on a Texas Attorney General ruling published in 2013.

VIEW: Attorney General ruling

By 2018, that number swelled more than tenfold. According to the Texas Association of School Boards, out of the 1,023 independent school districts in Texas, 172 now have policies allowing certain employees to carry guns on campus. TASB will not release a list of the districts' names because Texas doesn't requires schools to publicize these policies.

"It's the wrong move," said Zeph Capo, president of the Houston Federation of Teachers.

No districts in the Houston area have taken this step, and Capo said his members do not want to be armed.

"They're the teacher. They're the nurse. They're the social worker. They do not want to add police officer to that list," Capo said.

Channel 2 Investigates found the districts that do allow staff to carry guns are in mostly rural areas, where it can take help a long time to get to a campus and there is not enough money in the budget to hire full or part-time officers.

According to TASB, 150 ISDs have their own police departments, another 250 districts have either full or part-time school resource officers assigned to campuses. The remaining districts rely on local law enforcement.

There are two ways a school can arm staff. There's the school marshal plan, which requires a psychological evaluation and 80 hours of training from the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement. Other restrictions included in this plan include carrying only frangible ammunition and if a school marshal’s duties require direct interaction with children on a daily basis, then their gun must be kept in a safe until the use of deadly force to stop an attack becomes necessary.

The second option is the so-called "Guardian Plan." School boards are allowed to craft their own policies, as long as those policies do not conflict with current laws, as to how this plan is implemented. Several districts that implemented this plan told KPRC requirements include psychological evaluations, a license to carry a handgun, as well as mandatory training.

VIEW: TASB Document 1 | TASB Document 2

Following the shootings in Parkland, more districts are considering going this route. Aransas Pass police Chief Eric Blanchard is urging the school district in his area to do the same, even though officers can respond quickly.

"Being able to rush in and handle that threat takes minutes and those minutes equate to deaths," Blanchard said.

Officials with Tarkington ISD in Liberty County told KPRC they are "considering all options on the table."

However, Cleveland ISD police Chief Rex Evans said there should be a moment of pause when a school considers this option.

"It's not a program you implement overnight," Evans said.

Evans said his district is not arming school staff. His worry is putting officers in a position to tell the difference between an armed intruder and an armed staff member in the middle of an attack.

"You could have a catastrophic incident occur, on top of an already catastrophic incident," Evans said.

Evans said Cleveland ISD is considering adding more officers to its ranks. The school district also received a new tool through a gift from the Montgomery County Crimestoppers Association. The district will be equipping every classroom with a device that prevents a door from being kicked in or forced open.

VIEW: Texas Public School Statistics Pocket Edition document

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