A national debate rages in the aftermath of a school shooting in Parkland, Fla., about how to improve school safety, but several Galveston County educators say the answer doesn’t lie in arming teachers.
“At this time, the administration and board are not closing the door to any possible safety measure if it is in the best interest of our students,” said Rodney Cavness, the superintendent of Texas City Independent School District. “However, we don’t feel that arming teachers would be the best solution because of additional problems that it could cause.”
Cavness isn’t alone. Representatives for Galveston and Clear Creek school districts also voiced concern about a proposal to arm teachers that has gained steam in the weeks following the Parkland shooting.
“I do not believe that arming teachers positions us closer to our primary role,” Galveston Superintendent Kelli Moulton said. “Galveston ISD maintains its own police force to address the safety of students and staff.”
After Nikolas Cruz, 19, shot and killed 17 students and teachers on Valentine’s Day at his former high school, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, parents, politicians and community members across the country have weighed in on how to reduce school mass shootings.
President Donald Trump in the days following the shooting touted the possibility of arming teachers and said that armed teachers should receive a bonus to incentivize the move.
Trump said he would consider using federal money to train the teachers and called for hardening schools against attacks.
As Trump and other politicians weigh legislative solutions, survivors of the Parkland shooting have brought the issue to a national audience through advocacy on TV stations and other areas.
NO MAGIC BULLET
There might not be a magic bullet when it comes to school safety, but a combination of measures can have a big effect, Clear Creek Independent School District Superintendent Greg Smith said.
“A multi-pronged approach is needed,” Smith said. “You need mental health support on campuses and safety features on the perimeter as well as internally. There’s a lot we can be doing.”
Several district officials pointed to recent security changes as evidence they are already addressing the issue of student safety.
As part of a $487 million bond issue Clear Creek voters approved in May 2017, district officials set aside $8.1 million to upgrade security systems, including installing new security cameras.
“Safe schools are not necessarily just a single event,” Smith said. “Safe schools are something we’ve approached with the last two bond elections.”
A $31 million May bond referendum Galveston voters will vote on includes $2.95 million for districtwide security upgrades and LED lighting upgrades.
Those security upgrades include creating security vestibules at 13 campuses and replacing many of the district’s outdated security cameras.
STATUTES IN PLACE
While several district officials said arming teachers wasn’t a good idea, they also pointed out that Texas law already allows for some teachers to carry weapons.
A Texas statute known as the Guardian Plan allows licensed and certified school districts’ employees to carry concealed handguns on campus as a precautionary measure.
“I understand why you have a plan like that for teachers in rural areas, but one of the first people trained under the statute had to go out on workman’s comp because they shot themselves in the foot during a training session,” Smith said.
Former High Island Superintendent D’Ann Vonderau was licensed under the plan and made headlines in May 2017 when she left her pistol in a district-owned vehicle and it was later found by students.
Trustees later removed Vonderau from her position.
High Island district officials Friday said they were open to the possibility of arming teachers.
“I will say that we are a very rural district,” Superintendent Travis Grubbs said. “We are taking any and all precautions to ensure student safety. Yes, arming trained personnel is an option as well as other products on the market that help protect our students. Safety is our No. 1 priority here.”
HAVING THE CONVERSATION
Following the Parkland shooting, Galveston school district police Chief LeeRoy Amador discussed safety procedures at a school board meeting, highlighting security measures.
A policy committee also is working at Clear Creek Independent School District to create suggestions to improve school safety to be presented to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, Smith said.
“They are all features the governor might want to consider funding, as opposed to being on the local backs,” Smith said.
Several local educators said it was important to work with law enforcement to ensure safety.
“It would be preferable to increase the presence of armed officers who have been highly trained to deal with situations that might require the use of a weapon,” Cavness said.
Smith agreed, saying that arming teachers would complicate matters for law enforcement officers responding to a dangerous situation.
“If there’s an active shooter situation, and you have a teacher with a weapon and an active shooter team coming into the premises, that teacher having a gun might not have a good ending,” Smith said.
All education experts agreed the community needed to make joint decisions about what to do to increase school safety.
Successful practice requires good training, practice and great communication, Moulton said.