Schools in Texas evaluate gun, safety policies
With horrific images of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary still fresh in minds, the topic of guns and safety in schools is gaining momentum as discussions at local and state levels continue, including whether or not there is a need for armed personnel.
Recent incidents like these have forced many Central Texas public schools, as well as colleges and universities, to evaluate their current policies.
The Temple Independent School District held a meeting Jan. 29 in order to talk about what other districts were doing, as well as to review their own plans.
Assistant Superintendent for Student Services Dr. Scott Moger said the purpose was “to review security plans, to answer any questions our board had and to give them relevant information about which school districts around the state have actually passed a policy.”
As far as allowing administration or teachers to carry firearms, Moger said TISD has not implemented any such policies.
“It’s obviously a topic of discussion, and it’s around the state,” he said. “If you notice, there are a little over a thousand school districts in the state, and out of that, there’s a handful that have actually made the decision to do that. That’s because it’s controversial.”
Moger said the district’s current safety measures include armed resource officers, who he believes do a sufficient job in protecting the schools.
“We have highly trained personnel on campus that works with our staff, that knows our schools, that have established relationships with students, and know the building as well. They’re much more equipped to handle a situation than a staff member,” he said.
Director of Security for Killeen ISD John Dye said that while Texas legislation dictates that school districts can decide whether or not administration is armed, KISD, like Temple, has no armed staff other than the school police department.
He said, “The vast majority of school districts have not gone in that direction.”
Dye believes KISD’s measures are working, and that the addition of more firearms is a complicated decision to make.
“You constantly review your procedures, and I think we have a pretty good system…. When you discuss having someone armed, that’s something that you can’t pull back from. There are a lot of things that come into play,” he said.
In light of recent events, Dye said it’s a discussion that will undoubtedly continue.
“School safety is a large pie with a lot of slices that are brought together….Sandy Hook will certainly have people thinking and reviewing their plans and reviewing their actions,” he said.
Recently, Senate Bill 182 written by Texas Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, that would allow for concealed firearms to be carried on Texas public college campuses has caused universities to be part of the discussion about guns as well.
Many faculty members at Baylor University, including Dr. Blake Burleson from the Department of Religion, have opposed the bill, along with 120 others who signed a petition against it. However, about 600 Baylor students signed a petition supporting the bill.
Though Burleson said he does not speak for Baylor, he believes it is obvious that faculty, staff and administration at the school, as well as across the state, don’t support such legislation.
“If I have had one, I’ve had 100 faculty and staff members thank me for expressing opposition to this bill,” he said.
Burleson emphasized the lack of need for firearms at universities, saying that college campuses are already among some of the safest places across the country.
“Educators are not going to their governors or state representatives and asking for help here.”
Because Baylor is a private institution, Burleson is hopeful that even if the bill passes, the university will choose to opt out, and in doing so, be an example to other schools.
“In a culture that glorifies violence and honors the myth of redemptive violence, the belief that violence saves, our example may be of impact,” he said. “Instead of trumpeting our constitutional right to defend ourselves, perhaps we declare our allegiance to another canon, which announces a kingdom of non-violence where the meek inherit the earth.”
Support for the concealed carry bill came from members of the Baylor Young Conservatives of Texas group, who delivered a petition in favor of it to Birdwell’s office March 7.
UMHB Chief of Police Gary Sargent said the university, like Baylor and others, has historically opposed the carrying of firearms on campus by anyone except trained law enforcement.
“There’s a diversity of opinions when it comes to gun ownership and gun possession….There’s not a one size fits all answer, and I think that’s one of the concerns that I have with a generic legislation that says anybody can carry a gun at any time they want to,” he said.
Sargent does not foresee the university’s opinion or policy changing in the near future.
He said, “As events unfold and our environment changes, it’s always something that’s worthy of reevaluation on an annual basis.”