GATESVILLE — School board members are considering a policy to allow district employees to carry guns on Gatesville Independent School District campuses.
In the wake of the Dec. 14 shooting that killed 20 first-graders and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., school districts around the country have been re-evaluating campus security.
“We live in a different time” since Sandy Hook, said Gatesville Superintendent Stewart Speer.
District employees responding to a survey voiced overwhelming support for allowing guns in schools. But determining who should be allowed to carry on campus is a question the district is struggling to answer.
“There are a lot of questions,” Speer told the board last week. “It is a hot topic.”
“We have a lot of things to think about,” said Amy Hays, a school board member who asked Speer to bring a handgun policy template for the board to consider at next month’s meeting.
Of the 234 district employees who answered the survey, 78 percent said “employees should be able to carry a firearm on campus.”
Comments from the respondents, however, varied widely as to where, how many and by whom firearms should be carried.
Speer suggested there should be two armed employees for every 400 students on district campuses.
As to which employees should carry, survey responses ranged from “all” to “full-time security guards only,” with most respondents somewhere in the middle.
“The process for determining what staff members are eligible to (carry) a firearm on campus should be extremely stringent,” said one survey respondent. “Only the most qualified and willing staff members” should be considered.
“The board sets policy and has a lot of control” over who will be allowed to carry weapons, Hays said.
“We want people who are comfortable (carrying a gun),” board member Joe Nolte said. “It is a big decision.”
Nolte said hiring armed security guards for the schools would cost too much money. “We could not afford it.”
Nolte said he has taken the state concealed-handgun license course and believes it is insufficient training for a school employee to carry a handgun on campus.
“There is not much to it,” Nolte said of the 10-hour course. He said one person in his class “had never touched a gun before and passed with flying colors. It’s scary.”
Board president Stephen Norris said the district should confer with police, concealed-handgun-course instructors and Fort Hood to assess training needs and the district’s vulnerabilities.
Gerald Poe, a longtime teacher who was elected to the board after retiring, said not all teachers should carry weapons.
“Somewhere, some way, something bad can happen with guns in schools,” Poe said. “It may be a teacher doing the shooting.”
Board member Lisbeth Appelman favored a “multifaceted approach” to improving school security, but disagreed with some survey respondents who preferred pepper spray and Tasers to firearms.
“You can’t bring pepper spray and a Taser to a gun fight,” Appelman said.
Board member Marry Ann Leib asked whether teachers would wear guns in holsters in the classroom or have access to locked weapons.
“The guns would be on their person,” Speer said.
“If you are going to do it,” Poe said, “you need to put (the gun) where they can get to it if something happens.”
The next school board meeting is Feb. 18.