Protecting children in school

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Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado; Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia; Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut. We all know what these locations have in common, especially if we have children attending school.

Some of the most deadly massacres occurred during what began as typical school days in our educational institutions. We can only imagine the fear that gripped the children and staff of those schools when the first shots were heard near their classrooms, as crazed gunmen walked the corridors shooting everyone in sight.

Teachers and school administrators were defenseless against killers armed with automatic weapons, mowing down numerous adults and children in a matter minutes. By the time police arrived the homicidal rampages were over, the loss of life was mind-numbing, and the murderer(s) in most cases were dead from self-inflicted wounds.

Communities all over the country live in fear of gun violence. In Texas, and many other states, adults have the right to own and, with proper authorization, carry concealed guns for protection of self and family.

But how about protecting our children when they’re attending school? Every parent’s worst fear is a news bulletin reporting that another shooting has occurred in a school building. We listen carefully and say a silent prayer that it’s not a school attended by our children.

Sadly, for too many parents across the country, unimaginable grief descended upon them when it was determined that their child was a victim of the madness that has gripped our nation in the last few decades. This is unacceptable! We shouldn’t be in mortal fear of sending our kids to school.

If you think it only happens in high-crime areas, think again. Newtown, population 28,000, had only experienced one homicide in the town for the 10 years prior to the Sandy Hook massacre. On that fateful December morning in 2012, 20-year-old Adam Lanza fatally shot 20 children and 6 adult staff members before ending his own life with a bullet to the head.

We’ll never know how many lives could have been saved if even one person on staff was armed with a gun and trained to use it. However, it’s reasonable to assume that the death toll would be less if school officials had been proactive concerning the vulnerability of kids in unprotected schools.

About 2 years ago, the Argyle Independent School District (AISD) began the process that would ultimately allow staff to carry concealed guns. In a press release in 2012 the district stated: “AISD considers the safety of our students as our utmost priority. Given the unfortunate and tragic situations that occurred in multiple American schools over the last several years, the board of trustees ordered a comprehensive evaluation of district’s safety, security and emergency response policies on Dec. 17, 2012. Following the evaluations, in recognition of concerns regarding effective and timely response to emergency situations on district property, the board thoroughly considered all available options to increase student and faculty safety.”

In April of last year, the district hosted a community forum to present various options. The following month the board voted to approve the amending of local policy to allow armed staff and district officials. Furthermore, on Oct. 8, 2013, the board voted to create an AISD Police Department. About two weeks later, they voted to hire Ralph Price as the department’s first Police Chief, thereby creating the first armed presence on AISD school property.

Moreover, the board authorized a pilot training program created to evaluate and train board-authorized district employees to possess firearms on district property.

Chief Price has an impressive background in police work that spans 30 years. During a recent interview he said, “We are not associated with the Texas School Marshal’s program. That is a totally separate entity that is licensed through the State of Texas, where you go to their school and follow their rules. The policies and procedures that I put in place are not governed by the State of Texas.  We set it up with what we deemed was accepted by the school board. We already had our people in place before the school marshal program had its first training sessions.” 

To maintain the strategic integrity of the new policy and ensure the stability and ongoing effectiveness of the new procedures, the district will not be making public the complete details of those procedures. However, the following are some requirements and safeguards. District staff authorized to possess will come from a volunteer pool. Those who have obtained and maintain a current license, in accordance with state law, to carry a concealed handgun are eligible to be considered for authorization to possess a firearm on district property. To become eligible, employees will have to pass a rigorous interview process, a complete psychological evaluation and a comprehensive firearms and emergency response training course.

The board will authorize those who will serve, however, their names will not be released to the public. Authorized employees will be required to participate in an ongoing requalification process throughout the course of the school year and the program will be overseen by the AISD Chief of Police.

According to Chief Price, only he, the school principal, the district superintendent and of course, the staff member carrying the firearm, know who’s armed.

“Argyle has three physical schools, but the high school and middle school are in one building. You have Hill Top Elementary, middle school, and high school. There are three separate campuses. Three separate buildings with signs on them.  Somewhere in the last six months the signs went up on the schools,” the chief said. “All the weapons they carry are issued through the police department. Everyone has the same weapon and trained on those weapons. They are AISD police department weapons. I also designate ammunition as well,” he added.

As for how the training is implemented in violent situations, Price said, “If a person is in the school with a weapon and they are seen, the teachers are trained to engage. He (the armed intruder) has to be an immediate threat. That’s what gives staff the ability to take out a gun. Obviously, once shots are fired in the school, their immediate action is to take him out. Once he becomes a threat, if he points it at a student, points it at a teacher; once he becomes a threat, that’s when the justification comes in.”

The response to the program has been overwhelmingly positive. Although he is the only police officer in the District, Chief Price said when the school population increases, he expects more officers to be recruited.

Price reports directly to District Superintendent Dr. Telina Wright. Although there has not been a school shooting in the history of AISD, it’s comforting to know that school officials are not waiting until a tragedy occurs before taking steps to save our kids’ lives.


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