A small Texas school district voted in December to arm teachers to help prevent a mass shooting attack. The Keene Independent School District Board of Trustees voted 6-1 to approve a “school marshal” policy allowing the district to provide select staff members with weapons and permission to carry them on school property. The district will carefully vet potential marshals and keep the number of armed staff, as well as their names, confidential for security reasons.
Keene is a town of about 6,000 residents south of the Dallas-Fort Worth area. The Keene school district has four campuses: elementary, junior high, high school and alternative learning. Under the new policy, campus principals, Keene Police Department officials, and the district’s superintendent will identify candidates approved to volunteer. Those selected will undergo concealed handgun license training and must earn 80 additional training hours annually to maintain their position, according to a local NBC affiliate.
During the last school board meeting, parents had mixed reactions.
“It could still turn into a gun fight no matter who has the gun, or children could get the gun,” Tanya Manuel told Fox News. “It just scares me still.”
Michelle McCormick, another parent, told an ABC News affiliate that it’s “terrible we have to do this,” but necessary.
“It does shock me,” she said. “But I have to tell you, I’m for it.”
Superintendent Ricky Stephens originally opposed arming educators when he came to Keene three years ago. But he said the world has changed and so has his opinion.
“That old mentality of ‘it can’t happen here’ has started to leave a lot of small towns,” Stephens told ABC News.
When asked about fears kids would be able to get guns away from armed staff, Stephens said the school has given a lot of thought to who is in the best position to carry a weapon, according to Breitbart.
“[Teachers] involved with kids in that level will not be those who are selected to carry the gun,” he said.
School board member Dan Roberts offered the lone dissenting vote for the program.
“I am against having guns on campus,” Roberts told Spectrum Magazine. Roberts noted that in many cases, acts of violence on campus are perpetrated by someone related to the campus. He said he does not want to put a teacher in the position of shooting someone they know, potentially a student.
In 2013, Texas passed the Protection of Texas Children Act, allowing schools to designate “school marshals” – vetted, trained, and armed staff – to provide security at K-12 schools. Modeled after the federal air marshal program, the act allows school marshals to respond to active shooter or emergency situations that threaten the lives of students, but only before police arrive.
Some other Texas districts, often small ones with limited security budgets, have enacted the “marshal” model, including one 100 miles north of Keene. Administrators at Argyle Independent School District posted a sign on all its campuses that reads, “Attention: Please be aware that the staff at Argyle ISD are armed and may use whatever force is necessary to protect our students.” Other districts have opted to rely on local enforcement or, in the case of larger districts, their own school police department, for security.
Keene’s new policy will go into effect early next year.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Kiley is a graduate of the WORLD Journalism Institute’s mid-career course.)