Texas teachers packing heat

Monday, October 27th 2008, 6:43 pm
By: News 9

By Rusty Surette, NEWS 9

HARROLD, Texas -- Oklahoma City Public Schools were on high alert following at least two cases of students who were caught on campus with a gun.

School districts across the country are dealing with similar threats, which lead one community in North Texas to begin allowing teachers to arm themselves in the classroom.

Harrold, Texas has a population of 200 people and with its rural community, the town has recently received international attention.

The Harrold Schools Superintendent David Thweatt decided to allow his teachers to carry concealed handguns into the classrooms.

"It's like the Air Marshall Plan, where people do now know who has the weapons," Thweatt said.

Harrold is the first school district in North America to allow teachers to arm themselves.

The superintendent said after watching what happened in other schools like Columbine and Virginia Tech, he began thinking of ways he could better protect his faculty and students.

"We wanted to know what was going to happen if we have an active shooter," Thweatt said.

Tweatt said his biggest concern was the location of the nearest law enforcement office, which is 20 miles away from his district. It could take up to 25 minutes for the nearest deputy to arrive on scene.

"I can lead them from a tornado. I can lead them from a toxic spill, but I cannot lead them from an active shooter," Thweatt said.

He's encouraging his staff to arm themselves.

Although a group of community members have protested the plan, Thweatt said the faculty that chooses to carry a gun will abide by certain conditions, including:

      --School board members must approve each applicant

      --Authorize employees must have a concealed handgun permit and receive extensive training in hostile situations

       --Approved applicants are given special ammunition that minimized ricochet

Texas Governor Rick Perry supports the plan. Across the Red River, Oklahoma Governor Brad Henry chose not to comment on the move. State Rep. Jason Murphy (R-Guthrie) said he's in support of the plan.

"I think that's very important reform," Murphy said. "Teachers by nature should be responsible individuals."

Murphy has since pushed legislation that, if passed, would allow students to carry concealed weapons on college campuses within Oklahoma.

He also supports the idea of allowing Oklahoma public school teachers to do the same.

Rep. Scott BigHorse (D-Pawhuska) said the proposed legislation is not something he'll support.

"I think they need to spend money on more resources of trained officers that can be on the site during school hours," BigHorse said.

With only 25 employees and 100 students, Harrold's superintendent said hiring a security guard isn't financially possible.

"You have to answer the questions, ‘What happens when he has the flu or when he's in a different part of the building?'" Thweatt said. "He gets trapped outside."

The debate has caught the attention of Oklahoma school districts that are in the same predicament. Steve Mendall, the superintendent of Lomega Public Schools, said his small school has only 205 students and the closest sheriff's office is 24 miles away.

If tragedy were to strike his schools, Mendall fears it would take the nearest deputy at least 40 minutes to respond.

"If my board would decide that it'd be a good idea to arm somebody in the office, I think I can go along with that," Mendall said.

He said arming every teacher may be a bit too extreme, which contradicts what Superintendent Tweatt believes.

"We live in a day and time where people want to do harm to innocent people and our children have to be protected," Tweatt said.

He said he's thankful Texas law allows his teachers to carry concealed weapons, and suspects Oklahoma and other states will one day follow suit.

"It's a changing world," Tweatt said. "There's issues we face today we didn't face 10 years ago."

Murphy said his bill would allow students on Oklahoma college campuses to carry a handgun will likely be resurrected in the next legislative session, which will begin in February.