Districts find best fit for safety
It is tough to imagine children losing their lives while attending school, and even harder to imagine that it could happen close to home in Gillespie County.
With the rising violence taking place in schools across the nation, local school districts are implementing new initiatives, trying to find the right fit for their community.
In rural, unincorporated Harper, which doesn’t have a city police force, and only county law enforcement presence, Harper Independent School District took school safety of its students and staff into its own hands.
“When we started studying and looking at what the risk factors were, the first and at the top of the list was how easily accessible our campuses were to anyone driving through the community,” Harper ISD Superintendent Chris Stevenson said. “We were concerned about the length of time it would take if we had a major problem here. We were looking into ways we could respond here at the district should a violent situation occur, which led us to the Guardian Program.”
In 2013, the Texas Legislature passed two separate methods to allow educators and district employees to carry handguns on campus — the School Marshal Program and the Guardian Program.
The School Marshal Program was intended to allow educators and employees armed law enforcement capabilities and responsibilities.
School Marshal Program requirements include:
- 80 hours of in-class instruction by TCOLE-licensed instructors at an approved police academy for training;
- Handgun must be locked in a container and use dangerous disintegratable ammo;
- Designed to use teachers and employees as security personnel with the added liability.
The Guardian Program provides students and faculties an armed self-defense option prior to the arrival of law enforcement in the event of an active shooter on campus.
Guardian Program requirements include:
- 16 hours of training by licensed instructor;
- District and schools establish policies and rules;
- Customizable training plan that can occur in-house.
More than 170 school districts in Texas now allow teachers to carry guns on campus. More school boards across Texas revised their policies after tragedies struck in February and May of this year.
At least 13 other states arm their teachers and staff, including Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Indiana, Missouri, Montana, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah and Washington.
In the next session of the Texas Legislature, bills are proposed for funding opportunities to aid school districts with mental health and school security.
“The reason schools entertain the Guardian Program is because there is a need for immediate reaction to a tragic situation. It made us feel, as a rural school district, that we needed to go down that road,” Stevenson said.
“We needed to have people trained here to respond and as proactive as we possibly can instead of reactive. We are in a better position to respond to a situation.”
It is easy to believe that an active shooter situation would never happen in a small, quiet town like Harper, he said. But the district had other views and did not want to stay complacent.
“I think it is very naïve to think something like that couldn’t happen here,” Stevenson said. “This program is not for every school district. It is not a one-size-fits-all. I was pleased with the fact that we had the support of the community to move forward with this. In this community, these people definitely wanted to make sure our district was protected as much as possible.”
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