How can we keep students safe?

To tote guns or not? Superintendents agree safety is priority but methods differ

Kimberly Rubio

Assistant editor

At least two area school districts allow teachers and staff to carry weapons on their person as a safety measure against potential threats, and Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District administrators hope a community safety meeting set March 21 will provide feedback about what local residents want to see regarding school safety.

The meeting will be held at 6 p.m. in the Benson campus cafeteria, 601 Dean St.

“One of my priorities is to keep students safe,” said Jeanette Ball, UCISD superintendent. “I am here to serve, listen and protect our students so that is why I am conducting a community safety meeting… to hear from the community. Together we will discuss the needs and wants in regard to school safety.”

Two area school districts have taken a different approach, with some staff at Nueces Canyon Consolidated Independent School District and Utopia Independent School District trained in the use of firearms.

NCCISD has designated two trained staff members – whom the district calls first responders – to carry concealed handguns on campus.

“NCCISD is in a remote area and this can create challenges when it comes to law enforcement officials getting to us in the time frame that would be necessary in an active shooting situation,” said Kristi Powers, NCCISD superintendent. “If there were not armed first responders on both of our campuses, we would be completely defenseless to a gunman – we would have no way to protect our students or staff.”

Powers said staff approved by the district’s board of trustees must first undergo training with a weapon of the trainee’s choice. The weapon must be purchased by the staff member.

“We hope that having designated first responders throughout the district will serve as a deterrent to anyone thinking of threatening us in any way and would also allow us to protect our students and staff if we were to experience an event involving an active shooter,” Powers said.

Utopia ISD also allows staff members who have a license to carry and who are approved by the board of trustees to carry weapons on campus; however, only one individual has chosen to carry on campus. Guns are also stored in designated areas on campus.

“I have mixed emotions about arming teachers,” said John Walts, Utopia ISD superintendent. “Some would be comfortable and capable handling a crisis situation, but many would not. I do believe the best answer to protecting schools is armed guards of some kind. The best defense against a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

Walts said he doesn’t believe restrictive gun laws will decrease school shootings.

“I don’t believe any restrictive gun law is going to help the situation at all.   We already have more than enough gun laws,” he said. “They only restrict honest people from being able to protect themselves and others.”

With a district situated 11 miles from the city of Uvalde, Knippa ISD Superintendent Jeff Cottrill said he does not feel the need to arm school personnel but understands it is a necessary security measure for campuses residing in remote areas.

“The fact that 172 of the 1,201 public school districts in Texas permit firearms on campuses suggests the existence of a held sentiment that this is a needed security measure,” Cottrill said. “Fortunately, Knippa ISD is located only 11 miles from the center of Uvalde. This close proximity to the police department, sheriff’s office, Department of Public Safety, CBP and many other first responders affords an expeditious response time in the arise of an emergency.”

While Sabinal ISD Superintendent Richard Grill would neither confirm nor deny whether staff is armed, he said the district remains in a state of readiness with various security measures in place at all campuses.

“Obviously student and staff safety is always our utmost concern, and this said, Sabinal ISD stays in a state of readiness at all times with enhanced security measures implemented at all of our campuses. For obvious reasons, we do not provide information of our security measures,” Grill said.

Grill said campuses routinely practice lockout, lockdown, evacuation and shelter-in-place drills to prepare students and staff for various scenarios including active shooting situations.

Grill said lockout is used to safeguard students and staff within the building, while lockdown is the protocol used to secure all rooms and keep students quiet in the nearest safe location within the building. Evacuation is used to move students and staff from one location to a different location inside the building  or to leave the building.

“When we evacuate out of the building, we have reunification locations established so to account for students and staff,” Grill said. He added that shelter-in-place is the protocol for group and self-protection due to weather or man-made catastrophe.

Last month, Grill said he attended a school safety summit in San Antonio, which included presentations by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Texas School Safety Center. Next week Sabinal ISD will host a meeting with Sabinal Police Department, Sabinal EMS, Uvalde County Sheriff’s Office and Uvalde County Emergency Management regarding school safety.

“In the near future, Sabinal ISD will be hosting a joint active shooter response training, which is a tactical training drill for law enforcement personnel. All these efforts will further enhance our preparedness for emergency situations,” Grill said.

While private school principals from Sacred Heart Catholic School and St. Philip’s Episcopal School each said student safety is a top priority, neither agreed with arming staff.

“We are currently working with law enforcement agencies to ensure we are doing everything we can to protect our students,” said St. Philip’s Principal Jean Ann Chisum. “This being said, we do not feel it is in the best interest of our students to arm our teachers. Many teachers have no desire to be armed and while we do have several on staff with concealed handgun licenses, we feel lethal force should be left to those who are trained in such matters.”

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