Guns in classrooms at small Texas town

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by ANDY PIERROTTI / KVUE News and Photojournalist ERIN COKER

Bio | Email | Follow: @AndyP_KVUE

kvue.com

Posted on February 7, 2013 at 11:30 PM

Updated Friday, Feb 8 at 11:38 AM

HARROLD, Texas -- Surrounded by miles of machines drilling for oil and acres of cotton fields, trains rarely stop in Harrold, Texas. The small Texas town of about 200 people is located two hours north of Dallas.

It's difficult to imagine this part of rural America could be anything but a safe place to live and put children through school. "That is a misnomer about rural America; that it's absolutely safe because obviously we have the ear marks of what a lot of people assume about being a dangerous area," said David Thweatt, superintendent of Harrold Independent School District.

The district includes just one school, 107 students and a number of teachers and staff who carry concealed handguns. Exactly how many is not publicly known. Thweatt will not identify who is armed, including himself.

In 2007, Thweatt convinced the district's school board to allow staff to carry concealed handguns. The idea was spawned after the Virginia Tech Shooting and the Amish school shooting in Pennsylvania in 2006. "That was the milk delivery man. That concerned us because he was a friend of the school's, and we would have let him in the school. We would have let him in the door," Thweatt said.

Another concern is how far away the school is to nearby law enforcement. If the sheriff’s office needed to respond to the school in an emergency, it could take them 20 to 30 minutes to the school. "These shootings are taking places in minutes, and we don't have that opportunity to call somebody in," Thweatt said.

Parents like Carae Reinisch echoed similar concerns. She transferred her two boys there for the district's smaller class sizes and the security. "I hate that it has to come to that, that it plays a role in choosing your child's school or not. I think that it soothes a lot of parents," Reinisch said.

Thweat recognizes there’s always a chance a teacher’s gun could end up in the wrong hands. “But I don't worry about that as much, because part of our policy is that they can never take them off," argued Thweat.

The district uses frangible bullets, which are still deadly if shot at a close range, but will break apart if they hit a hard service like a wall.

Students KVUE spoke with didn’t appear concerned, including the superintendent's son Harrison. "I know these people. I'm trusting them to further my education. I'm kinda trusting them with my life already," Harrison Thweat said, a junior in high school.

Fellow classmate Matt Templeton shared the same sentiment. “It’s just like any utensil around here. Just like a fork, a spoon. We have guns," he said.

The district's gun policy is voluntary. Those who want the responsibility, must get approval from the school board and get a concealed handgun license. The district also requires staff get additional training to improve their accuracy, beyond what's required for a CHL.

Kent Morrison with Austin's BSG security says extra training is a must. "What we're talking about in a defensive situation is accuracy to hit your intended target, whatever that target may be, and not hit unintended targets," Morrison said.

Some state lawmakers agree with the district's gun policy. Lt. Governor David Dewhurst wants the state to pay for staff firearm training in the handful of districts that allow guns in the classroom. "In case we've got school personnel with a concealed handgun permit that are in that school and there's an active shooter, we don't want the children harmed. We don't want the teacher harmed," Dewhurst said.

President of Education Austin Ken Zarifis disagrees with the policy. He argues the policy puts an unnecessary responsibility on teachers already overwhelmed and underpaid.

"I do not oppose the Second Amendment. I don't oppose owning a gun. I do oppose taking our state dollars that should go to education and putting into gun safety and gun carrying. I believe educational dollars should go to education," Zarifis said.

Thweatt suspects similar policies will be the norm across rural Texas within a year.

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