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Readin', writin', 'rithmetic — and now maybe revolvers

North Texas school's teachers can carry guns

JENNIFER RADCLIFFE

There's one item Houston-area school officials say teachers can leave at home when classes resume later this month: Their handguns.

Houston school districts said there's no way they'll follow the lead of a tiny North Texas school system that may be the first in the nation to let employees pack heat at their lone 110-student K-12 campus.

Harrold Superintendent David Thweatt said his school board unanimously passed the policy last October to protect employees and students in the case of an armed intruder or hostage situation.

He wouldn't say how many teachers went through the authorization process, which includes receiving a Texas concealed handgun license and undergoing crisis management training.

Thweatt said that despite the outrage from his public school peers, Harrold stands by its decision. The first few months of the new policy have gone smoothly, he said.

"We think we have acted cautiously and wisely," said Thweatt. "Others should be free to govern their school districts as they see fit."

Thweatt said the small community is a 30-minute drive from the sheriff's office, leaving students and teachers without protection. He said the district's lone campus is situated just 500 feet from heavily trafficked U.S. 287, which could make it a target.

Texas' penal code prohibits firearms at schools "unless pursuant to the written regulations or written authorization of the institution."

Alief school board member Sarah Winkler, vice president for the Texas Association of School Boards, said she didn't even realize that school trustees could vote to override the law. Individual school boards shouldn't have that type of power, she said.

"This is just appalling," Winkler said. "One accident, and I don't know how the school board would live with themselves."

She wasn't the only Houston educator stunned by the policy.

"It's a disaster waiting to happen," said Gayle Fallon, president of the Houston Federation of Teachers. "It's right up there with worst ideas in the history of modern education."

In an urban district like Houston's, Fallon said, she'd worry that students would get their hands on employees' guns.

"We could end up arming half the gangs in Houston," she said.

The idea was equally unpopular in suburban Cypress-Fairbanks.

"Absurd would be the word I would use," said Don Ryan, president of the Cy-Fair school board. "It's almost like something out of a movie."

It's the type of decision, Fallon added, that makes Texas a laughingstock nationally.

The plan could also backfire, so to speak, said Bryan Clements, executive director for security and technology support for the Galena Park school district.

"It is foolish to introduce more weapons into the school environment, even under the guise of wanting to provide better protection for our students," he said. "Staff would have to be constantly concerned with weapon security and retention, thus taking away from their ability to focus on their main goal, teaching students. In the event of a crisis there is no manageable way to integrate armed staff into the crisis response plan."

Gloria "Jo" Floyd, head of the San Antonio-based Nursing Consultant Educational and Health Services, said she's worried that the policy will give the Harrold district a false sense of security. She questioned where the guns would be stored, whether teachers could access them quickly enough and whether an educator could really handle a weapon effectively in a crisis situation.

"They sound a little bit more paranoid than they need to be," she said. "But if they're looking for notoriety ... they certainly stirred it up."

Houston Chronicle


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Posted on Thursday, August 21, 2008 @ 14:39:51 EDT by Southern 

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