HARROLD, Texas | Along with normal first-day jitters and excitement, students in this tiny district started school this week wondering which teachers might be toting firearms.
“It was kind of awkward knowing that some teachers were carrying guns,” said Adam Lira, 17, a senior. “I don’t feel like they should be, ‘cause we already have locked doors and cameras. But I didn’t feel threatened by it.”
Several parents said they had no idea that school employees were allowed to carry concealed guns on campus until recent publicity about the school board’s policy, approved quietly last fall. They said they were upset that the rural community near the Oklahoma state line had not been able to give input.
While some parents said they felt their children were safer, others opposed the plan.
“As far as I’m concerned, teachers were trained to educate my children - not carry a gun. Even police officers need years of training in hostage situations,” said Traci McKay, whose three children are among the 110 students in the red-brick Harrold school. “I don’t want my child looking over her shoulder wondering who’s carrying a gun.”
But Harrold Superintendent David Thweatt said the board approved the policy in an October open meeting that had been publicized. He said the decision was made after nearly two years of researching the best school security options at the school, just off a busy highway and 30 minutes away from the sheriff’s office.
“When you outlaw guns in a certain area, the only people who follow that are law-abiding citizens, and everybody else ignores it,” Mr. Thweatt said.
He declined to say how many employees carry guns but said each one first must be approved by the board based on his or her personality and reaction to a crisis.
In addition to training required for a state concealed weapons license, they also must be trained to handle crisis intervention and hostage situations.
Mr. Thweatt said the board took extra precautions, such as requiring employees to use bullets that will minimize the risk of ricochet, similar to those used by air marshals on planes.
“I can lead them from a fire, tornado and toxic spill; we have plans in place for that. I cannot lead them from an active shooter,” Mr. Thweatt said. “There are people who are going to think this is extreme, but it’s easy to defend.”
The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence has spoken out against the plan, saying it may not comply with Texas law, which bans firearms at schools unless they have given written permission.
If the school board authorizes an employee to carry a gun, then that person must be a peace officer, according to the Brady Center.
“It’s unfair of us to ask teachers to take on the additional job of being police officers,” said Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign.
But Cheryl Mehl, an attorney for the Harrold school district, argued that the statute applies only to security guards, not teachers and other employees.
Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican, has said he supports the policy because “there’s a lot of incidents where that would have saved a number of lives.”