COMMITTEES PONDER SCHOOL SAFETY
|Wichita Falls Senator Craig Estes (left) who chairs the Senate Agriculture, Rural Affairs & Homeland Security Committee and Houston Senator Dan Patrick, chair of the Senate Education committee, held a joint meeting Monday to hear testimony about how schools are keeping students safe.|
(AUSTIN) — Two Senate committees held a joint hearing on Monday to consider the safety of Texas schools. The mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in December has made schools safety a hot topic for lawmakers, and testimony before the Senate Education Committee and the Agriculture, Rural Affairs and Homeland Security Committee showed that districts are considering a variety of solutions to ensure the security of students and teachers. Some districts are mulling whether to permit certain school employees to carry concealed weapons, and some have already decided to.
Harrold ISD Superintendent David Thweet told the committees that he already has select employees carrying concealed weapons on the district's single campus. Harrold is in Wilbarger County, a sparse rural area bordering Oklahoma, and the district only has 108 students in grades K through 12. Thweet testified that his school is 30 minutes away from the nearest law enforcement, too far for a timely response in the event of an active shooter event. "We are all pretty much our own first responders when it comes to any kind of physical violence," he said. Since current law doesn't forbid teachers with concealed handgun licenses (CHL) from carrying on school campuses, Tweet said the district passed a policy in 2007 that permitted certain employees to carry concealed weapons. These teachers must have a CHL, receive extra training, and use ammunition designed to break apart once it hits a wall or other solid object. Tweet told the committees that his district's plan offers a cheaper, more effective method than hiring extra security guards.
Two other districts will soon join Harrold in allowing armed school employees. District superintendents Brian Gray of Union Grove ISD and Don Dunn of Van ISD, both rural areas, testified that their school boards have approved allowing some employees to carry concealed weapons and are currently in the process of implementing these plans.
While some rural districts are planning to add armed employees, two urban districts are looking to increase passive security measures. Both Austin and Dallas independent school districts have hundreds of campuses and their own dedicated police operations. In the wake of the Newtown school shooting, Dallas ISD Police Chief Craig Miller told the committees his district plans to harden facilities. He said the district needs to make sure that all campuses have camera systems, locking electronic doors and card readers to restrict entry. Miller was skeptical about allowing teachers or other school employees to carry concealed weapons. He said he has worked hundreds of murder investigations and dozens of officer-involved shootings with multiple law enforcement agencies over his 30 years as a Dallas police officer. "In each and every one of those situations, every one of them, the officer was second guessed and questioned whether or not the level of force they used was appropriate," said Miller. "I don't want to see a teacher put in that position."
While Monday's hearing didn't regard any specific legislation, such bills will likely come before the Education Committee as the session progresses. Bills have already been filed relating to guns on school and college campuses, and Governor Rick Perry has come out in favor of permitting CHL holders to carry wherever they want. Lawmakers will have to balance a number of factors, including safety and public cost, as they work to craft a plan that works for all districts state wide.
The Senate will reconvene Tuesday, January 29 at 10 a.m.