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Cleburne school district to explore allowing employees to carry concealed handguns

01/22/2013 11:52 PM

01/23/2013 12:04 PM

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

On Tuesday night, the school board agreed to explore allowing staff members with state licenses to carry concealed weapons to keep their guns on campuses, which are now "gun-free" zones.

Superintendent Tim Miller said he will discuss the idea with employees, meet with parents and other interested parties, and report to trustees.

In an interview before the meeting, Miller said: "A board member wanted this on the agenda. 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."

Board President Brent Easdon, who favors arming teachers, said in an interview that if trustees support the proposal, they could vote in mid-February. But he said the issue must be considered carefully.

"I'm comfortable [with] 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 that employees must have a state license.

During the meeting, several trustees said they are concerned about allowing teachers to carry concealed handguns when trained police officers are available.

"I think an armed presence with a trained individual would be a valuable safeguard," Trustee Stu Madison said.

Trustee M.J. Larrison agreed with Madison, adding, "I would much rather have a trained person with a handgun before I turn over that responsibility to a principal or teacher."

Trustees discussed other security measures, such as putting surveillance cameras in elementary schools and adding locks with card readers to main school entrances.

Such security improvements could be paid for with reserve funds, or trustees could amend the budget, Miller said. Or, he said, the district could call a bond election to raise money for security measures.

After the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn, where a gunman killed 20 children and six adults before killing himself, many districts have been re-evaluating security policies.

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

He said he discussed the issue with Cleburne Police Chief Robert Severance and Johnson County Sheriff Bob Alford, who expressed concern 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.

An advantage of arming teachers is that it could deter someone from 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.

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

Two rural districts let teachers with concealed-handgun licenses carry weapons to school.

The Harrold school district, west of Wichita Falls, has allowed it 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.

Miller said he talked to the Harrold superintendent. The tiny district -- 110 students -- is 30 minutes from any base of law enforcement.

Cleburne has armed police officers on campuses, and the response time from law enforcement would be much shorter in an emergency.

The Texas Education Agency is aware of no 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

Gun advocates in Arlington are also encouraging the district to allow teachers, administrators and staff members with state licenses to carry concealed handguns.

Last year, the school board summarily rejected the notion of allowing concealed handguns, but after the shootings in Connecticut, 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 that gun-toting teachers are not trained to deal with crimes the magnitude of the Connecticut shootings and that arming teachers could lead to more injuries and deaths.

This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.

Elizabeth Campbell,

817-390-7696

Twitter: @fwstliz

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