Keene school district will allow employees to carry handguns

The Keene school district will allow specific employees to be armed with handguns next semester.
The Keene school district will allow specific employees to be armed with handguns next semester. Getty Images

The Keene school district near Cleburne began the process Thursday of arming a “select few” teachers and administrators with concealed handguns, Superintendent Ricky Stephens said.

Keene’s board voted 6-1 Wednesday in favor of a “guardian program” that would allow school employees to carry guns on them at all times — if they’re selected by the district and pass a psychological and physical health exam.

“It’s not going to be the Wild West,” Stephens said. “We’re not going to arm all our teachers. We’re not going coerce anyone into carrying a gun.”

Stephens said he met with other district administrators Thursday to outline a timetable for the policy.

Employees interested in the program will interview before a district committee.

If they’re selected, they’ll participate in a concealed handgun license class in January, whether they have already have a license or not. Then they’ll go through 20 hours of active shooter scenario and safety training. The policy will require the employees to complete 80 hours of district-funded training by the end of the year.

Stephens said it will cost the district a little less than $10,000. It’s a preventative measure worth taking for the district of about 975 students, he said.

“We know this is never going to happen at small, conservative, safe Keene, until it does,” Stephens said. “There’s not a school one that thought, ‘We’re a perfect candidate to be attacked.’ 

Keene’s policy isn’t a new concept in Texas schools — Harrold school district near Wichita Falls was the first adopter of a district policy allowing employees with a concealed handgun license to carry a weapon at school.

Across the state, 110 of the state’s 1,024 school districts have policies that authorize designated employees to carry guns, the Texas Association of School Boards said.

State law for decades has allowed school boards to authorize employees to have guns. But Keene’s plan falls closely in line with last year’s Protection of Texas Children Act, which requires the 80 hours of training and the health exams.

The key difference is that under the Protection of Texas Children Act, known as a “marshals plan,” employees may possess a gun at school but not carry it “when conducting the marshal’s primary duty,” the law states. Employees have to lock their guns in a safe.

Keene’s policy will require the selected employees to carry their guns at all times. Stephens said it’s a security preference — the district didn’t want employees transferring their guns to and from safes.

“We will not be having any lockboxes,” Stephens said. “It has to be on them at all times.”

Stephens said the district began exploring the possibility of arming teachers in February, when its school resource officer left for another job. The district then hired a police officer whose full-time focus is patrolling Keene’s four campuses.

Stephens and the new officer began re-evaluating the district’s security.

Stephens declined to reveal which type of school workers would be armed. He said the district’s selections will “lean toward upper management.” But he also said teachers would be eligible to have guns.

When asked about the possibility of a student taking a gun from a teacher, Stephens said, “it would be safe to say there won’t be anybody carrying that’s in that situation.”

Teachers who are in classrooms with older students, for example, likely won’t be able to carry guns, Stephens said.

Ryan Osborne: 817-390-7684, @RyanOsborneFWST