Weatherford school district leaders are studying ways to keep campuses safer, including whether to allow staffers to carry concealed handguns.
"Providing a safe environment for our students and staff is our first priority," Superintendent Jeffrey Hanks said.
At a March 20 town hall at Weatherford High School — the second this month — the roughly 125 residents in attendance seemed to prefer more school resource officers to armed staff.
"Are we going to send out permission slips to parents of students in schools where there is a weapon?" asked substitute teacher Barbara Squire, who has worked with the district for almost three decades. "Personally, I'd like to know where the weapons are and who's got them.
"I've heard two [teachers] jump up and shout, 'I want to carry a gun!'" she added. "Neither one would I give a water pistol to."
Hanks said knowing who has the weapons would "undermine the safety of the program."
Cory Phillips suggested the board look at adding to the WatchDOG program, a group of volunteer fathers who help out at various campuses.
"We need to put more money into that program. We need to stop the shooters before they get in," Phillips said. "Teachers do enough stuff day in, day out. They don't get paid enough money."
Frank Martin recommended the school board and other districts press state officials to help. He also noted that it was a school resource officer who ended a school shooting in Maryland earlier in the day.
"A properly armed, fully trained officer took care of things in seconds up in Maryland," Martin said. "Make our politicians accountable for this stuff. We elected you. Pull up your britches and go do it."
But perhaps the loudest voice in opposition to concealed-carry came from student Jade Hebbert, a Weatherford High junior.
"You're proposing putting the very thing we're afraid of in the classroom," she said. "My heart drops every time someone opens a classroom door. If you select certain teachers to carry guns, are you selecting certain students to be protected?"
Not everyone was against concealed-carry, however. Supporters offered suggestions ranging from teachers carrying AR-15s to more gun training for teachers.
"I support the defender program, but I ask you, don't accept the standard. Do it better," Kerry Hill said. "Teachers need more training than what the state is going to require."
Meghan Lochabay told the crowd, "For all you people saying you don't want your kids at school with firearms, what do you think police officers have? Double standard."
The school district currently has four resource officers covering 11 campuses. School board President Jeff Geyer said adding up to eight more would require "a substantial adjustment to our budget. Something would have to go away for that to happen."
Tom Williams equated the proposed solution to "putting a Band-Aid on a major wound."
He then asked the board and the crowd, "When are we going to stop thinking 'it's all about money'? I'll pay more taxes to keep your kids safe. Spend the money that it takes. Let's get the SROs in there, the professionals."
Stephanie Tompkins, a teacher currently on leave with her children, said if the district is going to allow concealed-carry, training the teachers properly is absolutely critical.
"I have been that teacher that's had to interject at a moment's notice when two students are fighting," she said, recalling an incident that resulted in harm to a school resource officer. "That's terrifying. We need to make absolutely sure they know how to defend themselves."
Other ideas under board consideration:
- Implementing a student ID program
- Bus tags for students who travel to and from school on district buses
- Adding crisis intervention counselors
- Equipping classrooms with locked safes that would contain a safety vest, pepper spray and a trauma kit.
- Installing metal detectors
In 2012, the district conducted a needs assessment on safety and security. Those needs were prioritized and presented to the community in a 2013 bond election that failed. They were presented again in 2015 in a proposal that passed. All campuses have secured entrances as a result of the 2015 bond program.
The bond program also provided other safety enhancements to campuses, including the installation of additional security cameras, perimeter keyless entries, classroom intruder door hardware and additional parking lot lighting. In addition, all staff have been directed to keep all classroom doors locked as an added safety measure.
Hanks said Weatherford officials have researched several concealed-carry programs at other schools, including Brock, Peaster and Anna. Millsap is also currently considering adoption of such a program, he said.
In Brock, "we are still in the early stages of our guardian program, but we are happy with the participation and the direction of our program to date. We’ve had nothing but support from our staff and community regarding our concealed-carry program and our intentions to provide the safest educational environment for our students," Superintendent Scott Drillette said.
According to the Texas Association of School Boards, 172 school districts in Texas currently allow concealed-carry for teachers and district officials. The decision to do so is left up to each district.
At last week's meeting, Weatherford school officials estimated the cost of implementing added safety measures at $200,000 in the first year and about half that each subsequent year.
No timetable has been set for implementing the program. Surveys are currently being conducted, and the board is now considering the possibility of adding students to the survey, something Hanks believes makes sense.
"I think the board will want to get some student voices involved, more than likely our secondary" students, Hanks said.