Cleburne school district considers arming teachers

Posted Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

Is arming schoolteachers and staff a good idea?

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CLEBURNE -- Cleburne may be the first school district in a metropolitan area of North Texas to consider arming teachers and other district staff.

The school board was to discuss the controversial proposal tonight during its regularly scheduled meeting at 6 p.m.

Cleburne Superintendent Tim Miller said he was asked to present the advantages and disadvantages of the idea to the school board.

"A board member wanted this on the agenda..." Miller said. "I was asked to talk to law enforcement and staff to get ideas on what a proposal would look like. I am not recommending a change in policy."

School board President Brent Easdon, who favors arming teachers, said if trustees support the proposal, they could vote in mid-February. However, he said the issue of arming school employees needs to be considered carefully.

"I'm comfortable in arming teachers, but I know other board members are opposed to it," Easdon said.

Easdon said that he wants the program to be voluntary, and said that employees who want to carry their concealed handguns on campus will need a license from Texas because the state has "tough" requirements.

In the aftermath of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., where a lone gunman armed with a military-style assault rifle broke into the school and killed 20 children and six adults before taking his own life, school districts have been re-evaluating their security policies.

Law enforcement concerns

The Cleburne district, with approximately 7,000 students, currently has five armed school resource officers -- three Cleburne police officers and two Johnson County sheriffs deputies -- who spend time at all the district's 11 campuses, Miller said.

Texas' concealed handgun law bans guns in schools unless the district has regulations allowing them.

An advantage of having armed teachers is that it could be a deterrent to someone bringing a gun on campus. A disadvantage is that employees are not going to have the same level of training and expertise as law enforcement officers, Miller said.

Miller said he discussed the issue with Cleburne Police Chief Robert Severance and Johnson County Sheriff Bob Alford, who said they were concerned about employees carrying guns. But Miller said they pledged to work with the district if the board changes its policy.

"We want to make sure that any decision made is based on fact and logic and not based on feeling, emotion or opinion," he said.

Two school districts in rural areas already allow teachers with concealed handgun licenses to carry weapons to school.

The Harrold school district, west of Wichita Falls, has allowed educators with concealed-carry licenses to have their guns on campus since 2007. Last week, the Union Grove school district in East Texas voted to allow some teachers and administrators with training to carry concealed weapons.

The Texas Education Agency is not aware of any other districts that have decided to allow teachers to have concealed handguns, spokeswoman DeEtta Culbertson said. Arming teachers, however, is a local decision and the agency is not keeping track of what districts are doing.

Arlington talking guns

Cleburne is not the only metropolitan school district being asked to talk about arming its employees.

Gun advocates in Arlington are encouraging the AISD to consider allowing teachers, administrators and staff members with state licenses to carry their concealed handguns on campuses.

Last year the Arlington school board summarily rejected the notion of allowing concealed handguns on its campuses, but after the shootings in Connecticut late last year, the idea has been revived.

School Board President Peter Baron and Trustee John Hibbs have agreed to participate in a panel discussion next week with gun-rights activists about the idea.

Opponents say gun-toting teachers are not trained to deal with crimes the magnitude of the Connecticut shooting, and armed teachers could lead to more injuries and deaths.

This article contains information from the Star-Telegram archives

Elizabeth Campbell, 817-390-7696

Twitter: @fwstliz

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