Fort Worth area schools re-examine facility rental policies after shooting

Joseph Offutt, right, and Conner McCasland hold a U.S. flag across the street from the Curtis Culwell Center Tuesday in Garland.
Joseph Offutt, right, and Conner McCasland hold a U.S. flag across the street from the Curtis Culwell Center Tuesday in Garland. AP

School security and freedom of religion collided with Sunday’s shooting by gunmen with alleged terrorist ties at a Garland school arena rented for a prophet Muhammad cartoon contest.

The decision as to who can rent a school district building in Texas is in the hands of the districts, but they also follow a legal template from the Texas Association of School Boards.

“School districts do have a choice about whether to lease facilities generally — but once they open the door through policy or practice (as almost every district does) the district can’t pick and choose the groups that can rent based on their viewpoints,” said Barbara Williams, spokeswoman for the association in Austin, said in an email. “If, for example, a district routinely allowed a campus facility to be leased for community events, the district could not reject a request to lease the facility for an art show because it thought the art was in poor taste.”

The Garland school district had rented the same building to a Muslim group for a fundraiser in January.

Area school districts contacted Tuesday weren’t working on policy changes as a result of the attack during the First Annual Muhammad Art Exhibit and Contest.

“I think all school districts are being vigilant about safety issues,” said Norman Robbins, president of the Fort Worth school board. “What just happened heightens that sensitivity.”

Mark Thomas, spokesman for the Birdville school district, said its policy gives the district the right to accept or reject any rental request.

It provides for prohibiting use of a building for any “activities deemed by the board or superintendent to be incompatible with the educational mission or image of the district.”

Garland’s local policies have a similar section that outlines prohibited assemblies, including “presentations or productions that are, in the judgment of the board, not in harmony with the goals and purposes of the district.”

Since Sunday’s shooting, NBC 5 has reported that Garland school leaders will consider changing the district’s arena rental policy.

“We will definitely look into changing how we rent out that arena,” district spokesman Chris Moore told the television station. “We’re going to have to, in light of what happened.”

Moore could not be reached by the Star-Telegram on Tuesday.

The Hurst-Euless-Bedford school district was already in the process of reviewing its local policy before the incident in Garland, said spokeswoman Judy Ramos.

Currently, organizations that wish to rent HEB facilities are placed in categories including school affiliated, youth oriented, nonprofit and non-school-affiliated.

The Arlington school district charges rental fees to several types of organizations, including nonprofits and service clubs for fundraisers approved by the district for the benefit of the district or community.

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