PALESTINE — Westwood ISD is considering a policy allowing designated school employees to carry concealed guns to resist gun violence like the shooting in Connecticut that left 20 school children and six school employees dead.
“My belief is this is the best way that we can deter (shootings and) to make sure the public knows and any evil perpetrator knows that Westwood ISD will not be a soft target. If they try to do harm to our children, there will be formidable resistance” if the policy is adopted, Superintendent Dr. Ed Lyman said.
Westwood ISD, which serves a portion of the city of Palestine and rural areas in southwest Anderson County, has four campuses — the high school, junior high, elementary and primary schools.
The policy is called the guardian policy because school personnel consider themselves guardians of schoolchildren, Lyman said. Westwood ISD has patterned its proposed guardian policy after a policy enacted in Harrold ISD near Wichita Falls in 2007.
The Westwood superintendent expects to have a list of qualified volunteers ready to submit to the school board during the Feb. 11 meeting who could be authorized to carry concealed weapons on the campuses.
“I think personally this is a good idea,” Lyman said.
Lyman said it is his understanding teachers tried to stop the shooter in the Connecticut massacre with their bare hands, but he believes if they had possession of a weapon, the body count would not have been so high.
The federal government’s having established schools as gun-free zones was a na´ve step taken out of belief that shooters would abide by the designation, he said. Mass shootings over the past several years have occurred in gun-free zones because criminals know there’s not going to be any resistance, Lyman said.
“I would prefer that an evil person worry more about defending themselves against one of our adults than believe they have free access to murder as many children as they want and nobody is going to stop them,” he said.
The proposal stipulates that only school employees who have obtained and maintain a current license to carry a concealed handgun are eligible to be authorized to possess a firearm on school property.
They would have to pay for the training to obtain a license to carry a concealed handgun and furnish their own gun at their expense.
The district would not buy guns or pay for training for employees to obtain a license to carry a concealed gun, Lyman said. It would, though, pay for additional specialized training for employees authorized to carry a concealed weapon, he said.
The proposed policy specifies that any school employee authorized to possess a firearm on school property undergo additional specialized training in crisis intervention, management of hostage situations and other training. It also requires use of a special type of ammunition designed to have reduced ricochet hazard.
Employees who might be authorized to carry a concealed gun if the policy passes would have to have the weapon on their person every moment under their control while they are on campus, Lyman said. “In other words, they wouldn’t be able to leave it in their purse or in their briefcase or put in their desk,” he added.
The public will not know which employees have a concealed weapon and who doesn’t, the superintendent said. “We’d like to keep the bad guys guessing … that way they will be rather leery about coming in and attacking our children,” Lyman said. “They will be worried about someone shooting back.”
Several former police officers and former military combat veterans work for the district. At least six employees already have permits to carry a concealed gun and almost every one of them has volunteered already and are just waiting for approval from the school board if the policy passes, Lyman said.
“If the board approves it, I would send a note to all of the employees in the district and see if there are others out there that are willing to assist us with this,” Lyman said. “Just because someone volunteers or applies doesn’t necessarily mean they are going to be approved.”
The superintendent added, “It’s a very huge responsibility that these volunteers would be taking on their shoulders. If they do pull their weapon and it’s inappropriately displayed, it will cost them their jobs and (they will be subject to) a criminal charge.”
Westwood ISD is not alone in looking at these measures.
KYTX CBS19 reports that Union Grove ISD in Upshur County will allow select licensed and trained staff to have firearms in their possession on campus. The district also is having a 75-camera surveillance system installed next month.
“Getting our kids to and from school safely back to their parents is priority No. 1 for us,” Superintendent Brian Gray told CBS19.
Westwood ISD school trustees say they’re also thinking of setting aside money in their budget to train teachers and staff on concealed carry and firearms safety.
Trustees have not decided whether employees will carry the weapons on themselves or in a location on campus that won’t be released to the general public.