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Arlington school board cool to idea of armed teachers

ARLINGTON -- School district teachers and administrators won't be packing heat anytime soon.

The school board showed no interest late Thursday in a proposal by two gun-rights activists who want school staffers to be allowed to carry concealed weapons to help protect against attacks.

David McElwee and Bill Sandlin, members of the National Rifle Association, contended that school shootings are too unpredictable to prevent by beefing up security forces or technology.

While those traditional measures may help, McElwee said, "the final and last line of defense for students and faculty members is a trained and certified classroom teacher and/or administrator equipped with a concealed handgun."

The idea comes amid a national debate about high-profile public shootings, but it gained no traction with trustees. Board policy forbids members from responding immediately to audience comments on nonagenda issues. But when asked about the proposal after the meeting ended around midnight, several trustees dismissed it as dangerous.

"I believe safety of the students is best handled with professional security services," Trustee Jamie Sullins said.

'An irrational fear'

Only one district in the state allows concealed weapons. In fall 2008, the rural, 110-student Harrold district near Wichita Falls became the first in the nation to allow armed employees. School officials supported the measure because the district is 20 minutes from the nearest sheriff's station.

"A lot of districts our size aren't going to have enough of a payroll for a security officer," Harrold Superintendent David Thweatt said before Thursday's meeting. He declined to say how many of his employees carry concealed weapons on campus.

"I think we have an irrational fear or perhaps a media/Hollywood-fueled fear of guns," Thweatt said. "Bathtubs and cars kill a whole lot more."

Arlington trustees said armed teachers are not the best choice for their district, which contracts with Arlington police to keep officers at junior high and high schools.

Trustee Aaron Reich raised concerns about the possibility that a student could find out that a teacher is carrying a handgun, overpower her, take the gun and commit a violent act with it. And, he asked, what about the district's liability?

Personal experience

Board President Gloria Peña said she opposes the concealed-weapons proposal, basing it on concerns that were shaped when she was 9 and her father was shot by "a neighbor who went berserk."

"When he was shot, he jumped in front of me when the gun was aimed at me, so he was shot a second time," Peña recalled, adding that her father survived.

In the Fort Worth district, officials said, they are "absolutely, unequivocally" not considering such a policy. Spokeswoman Barbara Griffith said the district's policy forbids carrying firearms or leaving them in parked vehicles at campuses, even for people with concealed-carry permits.

Tiara Richard, Arlington police spokeswoman, said this is "a school issue and not one for the Arlington Police Department."

State law allows people with concealed-weapons permits to carry guns at schools and at off-campus school activities but only if the district's school board provides written authorization. There are exceptions, including a ban on bringing guns into any government meeting.

Staff writer Eva-Marie Ayala contributed to this report.

Robert Cadwallader, 817-390-7641

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