NIXON — Nixon-Smiley Consolidated Independent School District hosted a town hall meeting Tuesday night, open to public, to discuss the question of whether the school board should adopt a policy that allows board members and certain employees to carry firearms.
There are over 170 school districts in Texas who have policies allowing licensed employees and/or board members to be armed on campus. In light of the recent school shootings in cities such as Parkland, Fla. and Great Mills, Md., concerned members of both the cities of Nixon and Smiley approached NSCISD administrators about arming teachers. After forming a safety committee which includes former students, current staff, current board members and even two current Nixon-Smiley High School students, the district opted to first conduct an online survey, then hold a town hall meeting.
“This isn’t a debate,” NSCISD Superintendent Dr. Cathy Lauer told town hall attendees. “This is not an argument. We don’t have to convince anybody of anything. The point was for our board to have input from the community. This was a time to have a conversation face to face.”
Before the meeting, a decision was made to conduct an survey, allowing community members to answer whether they were for, against, or unsure on the topic of arming teachers. Results from the survey were surprising to Lauer.
“We had 256 responses,” Lauer announced. “To put that in comparison, on a regular school vote we have about 100-120 people who vote, so that’s a lot of response from this community. What really blew me away was that 79.2 percent said absolutely yes.”
The survey allowed for comments, and Lauer read off a few to the crowd.
One comment that was pro-arming teachers read, “Because of the length of time it would take for emergency/police personnel to assist us in the event of an active shooter, I would feel much safer having someone on campus being armed and able to confront an active shooter.”
An “unsure” voter wrote, “I like the idea, sure, but there would have to be a proven level of safety and competence in the persons carrying such a weapon.”
Then there was a comment from one who opposed the idea, writing, “There are some teachers I would not trust with a firearm and firearm safety. When you pull a gun, you have to be prepared to shoot and to kill. I don’t want my kid thinking that the person that is supposed to be their role model is capable of taking a life.”
Currently, NSCISD undergoes a strategy called ALICE Training. ALICE stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate.
“The school training has been practicing this,” Lauer said. “What we taught our students is it’s not OK just to hide in the corner like we used to, and put the colored paper over the window. What we’ve taught them is, if you’re not in the mix of it, run, make a good decision for yourself. And even if they shoot at you, still run because you can probably get away from that bullet easier than just crouching below your desk.”
Some community members don’t believe that’s enough to protect the students of NSCISD.
“I am in complete support of having a responsible, vetted, trained volunteer on each campus because I, unlike others, feel that is the best way to protect our students,” a middle school employee said at the meeting. “A comment was made that ‘arms brings arms.’ Well the people that are shooting up our schools, they are going to bring them anyway. If they know your school is armed, they might think twice.”
However, counterarguments were brought up, specifically talking about the dangers of having a loaded weapon in the classroom. One parent cited a CNN report on March 15, where a Northern California teacher accidentally discharged a firearm while teaching a public safety class. Another parent noted that if the school were to arm teachers, he’d be forced to withdraw his child from the district, for fear of her safety.
A current student at Nixon-Smiley High School even asked what would happen if a teacher who went through the process of psychological evaluation were to somehow “flip the switch.”
“What happens when although you seem fine, an incident happens,” Faith Pullin, currently a junior at the school inquired. “It scares me having guns in the classroom. It already gives me anxiety, everything that’s been going on. I feel like our opinions matter too because we are in the classroom dealing with it.”
Lauer explained earlier in the meeting three options that are currently in discussion, if indeed the panel recommends to the school board that NSCISD should arm their staff. One of which is employing a School Resource Officer (SRO).
The superintendent estimated the cost to hire an officer would be between $31,000-60,000 a year. Other than costs, an issue would be that the officer would be posted at just one location, which poses a problem for NSCISD since they have campuses both in Nixon and in Smiley, eight miles apart.
Then there’s another option called the School Marshal Program which allows the district to put certain school employees through TCOLE training, which is similar to officer training, where they take an assessment and that person carries a gun.
The “trick” to this program, as Lauer explained, is that if the primary duty of the school marshal involves “regular, direct contact with students, the marshal may not carry a concealed handgun but may possess a handgun on the physical premises of a school in a locked and secured safe within the marshal’s immediate reach when conducting the marshal’s primary duty,” according to text from House Bill 1009, effective June 14, 2013.
One final option that Lauer believes could be a solution is the Guardian Program. The program allows certain employees to carry firearms on their person. The board would decide on the training and psychological evaluations.
For context, Fayetteville ISD — a school district located east of La Grange, has implemented the program. In a letter signed by Fayetteville ISD Superintendent Jeff W. Harvey sent to parents, Guardians will be staff members who have passed each of the following requirements (and more):
If Nixon-Smiley CISD were to follow the route of the Guardian Program, the board may have similar requirements.
No decision has been made since the town hall meeting was indeed just another method of gathering information from the community. The soonest the school board can decide will be at the next regularly scheduled meeting on April 9.