JONESBORO — School officials here are taking careful aim as they implement a new policy to allow some district employees to carry concealed handguns on campus.
Their target is safety.
“I think it’s sad that we’ve come to the point where we feel like we have to be armed in our public schools,” Jonesboro Independent School District Superintendent Matt Dossey said. “But that’s the reality now.”
Jonesboro is an unincorporated town on the Coryell-Hamilton County line, about 40 miles north of Copperas Cove.
Since the Dec. 14 mass shooting that killed 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., school officials across the country have looked for ways to improve school security.
In January, the Jonesboro school board adopted a “Guardian Angel” policy to “authorize specific district employees to possess certain firearms on school property” and at school-related events.
Training and initial preparation should be completed by the end of the school year, Dossey said, with full implementation of the Guardian Angel program by the beginning of the next school year.
The policy, modeled after one adopted by Harrold ISD last year, cites Jonesboro’s relative isolation and the delayed response time of law enforcement personnel in an emergency — “a minimum of approximately 20 minutes.”
Jonesboro is 16 miles northwest of Gatesville and 16 miles southeast of Hamilton on State Highway 36.
Initial Guardian Angel training for all district employees is scheduled for late April, Dossey said, and will include basic self-defense, psychological training and instruction in crisis management and hostage situations.
Not all employees will be armed under the new policy.
“Obviously, we didn’t want everybody to have a weapon,” Dossey said, “but we had to come up with a strategic plan.”
The district serves about 170 students from pre-K through 12th grade and has 27 employees, including 13 faculty members. The campus includes four buildings, two of which are for instructional purposes.
The board considered the physical layout of the campus, particularly high-traffic areas, in developing security policies, Dossey said.
The defensive-tactics training for all employees, as well as advanced weapons training for certain authorized employees, will be done by Texas Weapon Instructors of Gatesville.
Each district employee authorized to carry a weapon will be approved by a separate action of the school board, according to the policy.
The number and identities of the district employees who will be authorized to carry concealed weapons will be kept secret for their protection.
“We don’t want them to become a target,” Dossey said.
Authorization to carry a concealed weapon will be based on the qualifications of the individual, not the position of employment, he said. School policy requires that only employees who maintain a valid Texas concealed-handgun license will be eligible for consideration.
‘For the kids’
“We understand it’s a big responsibility” to authorize firearms in schools, said Roger Hill, father of two Jonesboro ISD students and a member of the school board.
Some members of the community initially expressed concern about the gun policy, Dossey said, but their fears were alleviated once the program was fully explained. “They say it’s about time we do something like this for the kids,” Hill said. “We’ve had overwhelming support for the program.”
Elsewhere in Coryell County, the guns-in-schools approach to campus security has drawn mixed reviews.
Gatesville ISD Superintendent Stewart Speer expressed his support for arming some district employees after a survey showed a strong majority of Gatesville school district employees endorsed the idea.
The Gatesville school board was set to consider a guns-in-schools policy, but held back, waiting to see what the Texas Legislature will do on the issue.
Copperas Cove ISD Superintendent Joe Burns said firearms in school would add more work and stress to teachers.
“The accurate use of a firearm is a diminishing skill that must be honed with practice,” Burns said. “That is just another burden on the teachers.”
Burns said Cove schools are in close proximity to local police and nearby Fort Hood, support that some isolated school districts may not have.
“For some communities, the Guardian (Angel) program may be the best option,” Burns said. “It is not the best option for Copperas Cove.”
Jonesboro has made its choice.
“As for us,” Dossey said, “we feel it’s necessary.”