In light of increasing violence at schools across the country, a superintendent visited the Rio Grande Valley to discuss his Guardian Plan, which calls for school personnel to be the school’s first responders.
David Thweatt, superintendent of Harrold Independent School District, explained that the best way to ensure student safety would be by arming teachers and other personnel.
“We have stumbled on to something that is an undercurrent in our society,” said Thweatt. “We’re kind of taking back our own liberties.”
Implemented in 2007, and upheld in 2008, The Guardian Plan has received a lot of attention, and more so since the Newtown, CT shooting in December 2012. The Guardian Plan gives school employees the right to have a handgun on campus if they have a concealed handgun license.
The superintendent selected a number of his employees to have a handgun on the school campuses. The school board then has to approve the selection. The school district pays for special ammunition, a frangible-type ammunition that does not ricochet. The district also pays for the handgun and specialized training while the employee pays for the concealed handgun license and renewals.
The total cost is about $2,500 per employee, said Thweatt. He said the cost of having a few employees on campus that are able to protect the students costs less than having a couple of full-time security guards.
Harrold ISD is a small district where the high school, junior high and elementary all sit in one location similar to the Sharyland Independent School District was years ago.
There are only 25 employees on the campus. Thweatt would not say how many employees are allowed to have the concealed handgun with them, just that it is somewhere between one and 25 and they are placed in strategic locations throughout the campus.
Students tried to find out who had a gun and who didn’t during the first year of the plan, said Thweatt, but they gave up when they couldn’t figure out who had a gun on them.
History and Figures
Thweatt said that society has developed an irrational fear of guns with the belief that guns are evil even in the hands of good people.
In 1990, the Brady Campaign pushed for no guns allowed on school campuses, this is when schools became gun-free zones.
The Brady Campaign used data that explained 18 children are killed by a gun every day, said Thweatt. Once you reach that age of 11 or 12, you get into the age of kids that are in gangs. The data was for children age 1 to 19. It didn’t mean the kids were shot at school, though
“You can’t make a law that criminals are going to follow,” he said.
Thweatt’s research showed that prior to 1990, there had only been 49 deaths related to school shootings. Those deaths include a shooting at the University of Texas at Austin. After 1990, there have been 186 deaths related to school shootings.
Thweatt said now we are seeing that people want to remove guns from individuals for the safety of society.
“It’s not about you,” he said. “It’s about everybody.”
Views of guns have changed, he said. In a big city, it probably isn’t necessary to have a gun, but in a rural area, it’s a good idea to have one, he said.
“We have things to protect us,” he said.
An active, visible police force is the No. 1 reason for low crime rates.
“But beyond that,” said Thweatt, “I believe all citizens need to be armed.”
He added that areas with high crime rates are typically where citizens do not have the right to own a gun.
Over the years, Thweatt said a belief has formed that if all guns and weapons were thrown away, there would not be any wars or crime.
“It’s the tool that makes the person bad,” said Thweatt of the rationale.
After 1945, it was perceived that the only reason to have a gun was for fantasy reasons. Hollywood backed this up with characters like James Bond, Dirty Harry and Indiana Jones. Real people with guns were portrayed as bad and evil – the Bonnie and Clyde kind of theories.
Otherwise, there is a belief the only people that should have a gun are police officers, said Thweatt.
Thweatt went on to present figures of other deaths of children from gun violence. From 1995 to 2001 there were nine unsecured firearm accidents where a child killed themselves or another child every year.
“It’s not significant when compared to other data,” said Thweatt.
About 2.5 million people a year defend themselves with a gun. Only eight percent kill or wound their attacker. You are 80 times more often to protect yourself that to take a life, said Thweatt.
About 200,000 women use a gun every year to defend themselves against sexual assault.
The Change of Plan
Previously, standard plans for an active shooter on a campus was inadequate calling for teachers to lock doors and hide children behind and under desks, Thweatt explained.
But locked doors do not stop an active and aggressive shooter, he said.
Schools have learned how to protect students from fires, tornadoes and other things, Thweatt said, but couldn’t protect our children from an active shooter.
Now campuses also have keyless entry, where only one entry door is unlocked or can be unlocked by the press of a button; an extensive camera system; phones with intercom capabilities; and keep emergency plans simple.
Teaching people not to act is not the way it should be done, he said.
There is someone on duty at all times at his campuses. He can train 20 Guardian team members for the same cost of a security officer for one year.
He’s aware of the criticisms. He has heard that teachers aren’t capable of being trained; adding more guns in schools will make the situation worse; officers have trouble with conditioned hesitation when having to shoot, non-police officers have more trouble with this in the school environment; students may take guns away from school personnel; place weapons in safes or vaults.
He has an answer for all of those. The handguns are concealed – out of sight, out of mind and mechanical things break down.
“We are our own first responders,” he said.
He does agree that not every teacher has the mentality to be on the front line, which is why only certain staffers are elected to participate.
“Shooters don’t go where they will meet resistance,” said Thweatt.
At the end of the day, said Thweatt, what’s important is that “(the students) are going to leave and go home alive.”
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