Texas schools allow trained staff to carry guns

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(KAKE) -

Keene Independent School District, in north central Texas, is one of at least 176 school districts that allow trained staff to carry firearms in school.

Five years ago when the district's superintendent was hired, he had a different opinion on arming teachers. 

"I always thought that meant that every teacher on campus was carrying a gun like the wild wild west. That's absolutely not what the guardian program is. The guardian program is a very select few, highly trained teachers and administrators, who are willing to potentially lay down their life to protect their kids," said Ricky Stephens, Keene ISD Superintendent.

Keene Schools adopted the guardian plan. With this program, guardians must always have their district-purchased weapon in their possession. 

Stephens said his guardians understand the risk of that commitment. 

"Most active shooters are done within two to three minutes, so what we're trying to do is bridge that gap. We're trying to put somebody in the way until trained law enforcement can arrive," said Stephens. "All our guardians have decided if saving the lives of our kids end up in us being shot by a good guy, then we're willing to be shot by a good guy." 

Guardians also train with local law enforcement for identification in a crisis and everyone in the district has been instructed to say, "We have guardians in the building," when calling 911 and when police arrive on scene.

The Keene ISD Police Department is responsible for managing the Guardian Plan in the district. They are integral in the selection of guardians and the training for the program.

Guardians must pass a psychological exam and continue handgun training. Everyone who carries must complete 80 hours of training the first year and 40 hours every year after.

"I think it is stringent. Our guardians actually have to carry the weapon with them," said Ronald Potts, Keene ISD Police Chief. 

Due to confidentiality, the number of guardians is unknown. All guardians remain anonymous to the public. 

"If everybody knew who the guardians were, there wouldn't be any surprise. They would know," said Potts.

Secure buildings and surveillance cameras are also utilized as part of the safety measures at Keene ISD.

"What we started doing here is create layers of security. We have a police department, where a lot of schools don't. We have the guardians, instead of the school marshals, because it gives us the opportunity to have the weapon on them," said Potts. "If one layer fails, we have other layers to be able to get to our kids and staff."

Kansas Republican lawmakers introduced a bill late in this session and held a hearing on House Bill 2789. It would create the Staff As First Emergency Responders (SAFER) Act, which would provide a framework for staff to get training before they could conceal and carry in Kansas classrooms.

But since 2013, Kansas law has allowed school districts to implement conceal and carry by staff, if the district chooses to do so.

"I think really the insurance portion that is not allowing people to carry at these schools (in Kansas) is really just an excuse. We're not seeing any of these insurance issues with any other states," said Rep. Blake Carpenter of Derby. 

Since 2016, the TASB insurance has been covering the guardian plan at Keene ISD at no additional costs. 

"We all have the same desire in mind and that is a safe school," said Stephens. "The guardian program is a way to combat the evil that's in our schools. It's not the way. Our community and our staff and our kids, it is a way. It's a good way for us."

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