Schools Under Siege: Area district arms teachers to keep students safe

JONESBORO, Texas (KWTX) School districts across the country are struggling to increase campus safety.

(Staff photo)

After February's massacre at a high school in Parkland, Fla. the national debate has again taken an urgent tone.

In 2013, the Jonesboro ISD in Coryell County adopted a policy of arming select staff members with concealed weapons.

The school board unanimously approved the plan not long after a gunman's deadly rampage through Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., that left 26 people dead, 20 of them children.

"We're not a defenseless target anymore. And that gives you peace of mind in these situations," Jonesboro Superintendent Matt Dossey said.

With the nearest law enforcement agency about 20 miles from town, Dossey says being able to deter a potential school shooter and being able to defend themselves is a must.

"Whenever you are talking about seconds, you're talking lives. Whenever you are talking about minutes, you are talking about hundreds of lives potentially. Whenever you're talking about multiple minutes, you are talking mass destruction," Dossey said.

According to the Gun Violence Archive, which has been tracking school shootings since Sandy Hook, there have been more than 400 people killed or injured by guns in more than 200 schools.

The Texas Education Agency reports about 15 percent of all Texas school districts have a police department.

Less than 25 percent employ school resource officers.

Jonesboro has neither.

While schools remain gun free zones by federal and state law, there are exceptions in Texas that allow employees to carry a firearm on school property.

The School Marshal Plan gives armed staff law enforcement capabilities and responsibilities.

The Guardian Plan, which Jonesboro has chosen, enables qualified staffers to carry concealed weapons voluntarily and anonymously on campus.

"They don't know which teacher, they don't know where they are strategically positioned. They may have some guesses or things like that, but they don't know,” Dossey said.

While the rash of recent school shootings has re-ignited the national debate on guns in gun free zones, it has become the new normal in Jonesboro.

None of the several parents whom we asked, including Naomi Stewart, said they had any concerns about it.

"I think it's wonderful to be honest with you. My son says this is the best school he has ever been to. And they're well secured here, said Naomi Stewart.

Still critics outside the community, citing safety concerns, insist there is no proof arming staffers reduces the chance of a school shooting or ensures that lives will be saved should one happen.

Michael Hansen of the Brown Center on Education Policy in Washington, D.C., says arming teachers is a bad idea.

“I am supportive of having security officers in school. Other security measures for example perimeter fencing, having single entries for the public to come into the school. Those are the kinds of security protocols schools can put into place,” Hansen said.

But the message in the Jonesboro ISD is clear; they are ready, willing and able to fight back if necessary.

"Everybody always thinks your number one job as leader of a school is to teach math, science, social studies and English. I believe my number one job is to deliver your child back home safely every day,” Dossey said.

Bruce Kaase is a Texas Department of Public Safety Certified License To Carry Instructor and the owner of Kaase Concealed Handgun school.

He's been helping train Texas educators who are considering carrying at school.

"Not every teacher is ready to carry inside the classroom and we do understand that. We have a training program setup that we actually eliminate the teachers who are not quite ready for it yet and put the teachers who are ready to carry inside the classroom", said Kaase.

In the wake of the shooting in Parkland, Fla., President Donald Trump doubled down on arming educators, tweeting “Very smart people. Must be firearms adept & have annual training. Should get yearly bonus. Shootings will not happen again - a big & very inexpensive deterrent. Up to States."

The National Rifle Association also supports the call to arm teachers.

But there are a number of groups citing safety issues that oppose arming educators altogether including the National Association of School Resource Officers, The Texas Affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers and The National Association of Secondary School Principals.