Locked, Loaded, and Ready for School

courtesy Lisa Roe/flickr creative commons

School districts across Texas have had a rough go of things in the last couple years, starting with the Legislature’s $5.4 billion cut to public education funding in 2011. A lot of the state’s schools went on a starvation diet. Chronic underfunding of public education seems to be the state’s new norm. Which has left a lot of schools in Texas scrambling to find ways to pay for the bare necessities themselves. Take tiny Childress and Shamrock ISDs, two districts in the Panhandle that shelled out quite a bit of money—on guns. Childress ISD spent $150,000.

The money’s for more than just guns, of course—it’s for guns, and a support system for the guns, reports the Amarillo Globe-News.  The nearby town of Shamrock, with a population of 2,000 and a school district enrollment of about 430, paved the way for regional innovation with the installation of gun safes in classrooms, which would let staff members access heat in a hurry. Childress, with a population of a little over 6,100 and a school district enrollment of about 1,100, knew they were on to something good.

Childress ISD’s board approved a similar measure last year that allows certain school employees to access firearms kept in safes, [Superintendent Rick] Teran said. The school district devoted $150,000 to the purchase of firearms, safes, practice ammunition, a panic system and training, he said.

“With all the issues in the nation now, with gunmen coming into our schools and attacking our children, we felt it was our next step for our community,” Teran said.

It’s one of a number of precautions the rural schools are taking.

Childress and Shamrock’s programs include several training seminars, including a three-day session that included a simulated active-shooter situation, Teran said.
Childress police also have participated in active-shooter training in the elementary school, he said.
Childress ISD has completed other safety efforts, including hiring a liaison officer and installing a panic system that gives teachers access to hidden buttons in classrooms to alert law enforcement of a security issue, Teran said. The school district is also adding $150,000 in surveillance cameras, he said.

Teran showed the Globe-News he possessed a keen understanding of public education’s purpose. “We’re not here to take a life,” he said. “We’re here to protect children. Whether we’re safer or not, that’s up to each individual. But I think we’re a little more prepared.”

(Calls to Childress ISD were not returned.)

Questions abound: How long would it take a determined student to find a way into one of those safes? What happens if an adult in the school snaps? How much training is enough to effectively respond to a threat? If they’re going to be armed, are they armed enough? Could they defeat an intruder with body armor and an assault rifle?

It would be easy to poke fun at Childress ISD’s plan. But it’s part of a broader trend, and it’s not completely irrational. School shootings have become part and parcel of American life. Any individual school is very unlikely to be affected by one, but the horror when one is is enough to push schools to take extraordinary precautions. Although little Childress is an unlikely target, no one can really say what the likely targets are.

The parents and administrators of Childress ISD are trying, as best as they can figure how, to safeguard and bolster their children’s future. This is an wholly imperfect way to do that, but the sad thing is that we as a society haven’t given better options to the district’s frightened parents.

Childress has lagged behind academically: In recent years, they’ve fallen behind state average test scores. The $300,000 the school district spent on guns, panic buttons, and security cameras is the going rate of ten new teachers, according to salary information obtained by the Texas Tribune—or could pay for five for two years, two new teachers for five years, etc.

Or it could pay an additional college counselor’s salary for five years, with enough money to keep the debate and math clubs waist deep in the finest pizza Childress has to offer.

But instead, the “arm the teachers” plan is spreading—the Globe-News reports that Bushland ISD, near Amarillo, may take up a similar measure. A number of other schools around Texas already allow some personnel to carry concealed weapons on school premises. Tiny Leverett’s Chapel ISD, in East Texas, made that legal last year, with the charmingly evocative condition that “only ammunition designed to have reduced ricochet hazard will be permitted.” But Childress’ decision to purchase guns directly makes its situation somewhat unusual.

So Childress kids, and kids elsewhere, will have to wait on the next session of the Legislature for those extra college counselors—though they shouldn’t hold their breath.

Christopher Hooks is a staff writer covering politics.

Published at 12:25 pm CST
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