By CHERIL VERNON
Following a public hearing Monday, Cayuga Independent School District Board of Trustees unanimously approved a CKC (Local) emergency operations plan to allow the district to authorize board-approved employees with concealed handgun licenses to carry on school property. About 25 to 30 people attended the hearing.
At the start of the public hearing, CISD Superintendent Dr. Rick Webb explained how the board had recently talked to its school attorneys about the possibility considering a policy similar to a handful of Texas schools such as Harrold Independent School District’s “Guardian Plan.” Cayuga ISD board of trustees originally discussed the agenda item at its Feb. 7 meeting, setting Monday’s public hearing.
Harrold ISD was actually the first school district in the nation — and in Texas — to approve such a plan, doing so in 2007, Webb said, siting the lack of a timely response to emergency situations at school due to its remote location. However, since the mass school shooting in December 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut that killed 20 children and six adults, other school districts have applied similar measures, including Union Grove ISD, Van ISD, Ganada ISD, Louise ISD and Jonesboro ISD. Locally, Westwood Independent School District approved its “Guardian Plan” for Policy CKC (Local) Emergency Operations at its Feb. 11 board meeting.
“Response time for law enforcement is at least 20 minutes because of our distance — unless patrol units happen to already be in our area,” Webb said during the public hearing.
Like other school districts, the CKC emergency operations plan draft includes four components: authorization by the school board only for allowing approved employees with written authorization to carry firearms on school property; having a concealed handgun license; additional training in crisis intervention, management of hostage situations and other training as the board may determine necessary or appropriate; and only allowing frangible ammunition (ammunition designed to have reduced ricochet hazard) to be authorized on school property.
Webb also emphasized that there would be other regulations that administrators could use to implement the school policy, such as making sure the employee had been employed for a certain length of time. The participation in the plan is voluntary, Webb stressed, and an employee approved by the board would have a district-issued permit they would have to carry on their person while on the school campus. No employee would be given status or duties as security guard or peace officer and their weapon could only be displayed if there was an “active shooter” or a life-threatening event — not to be used to stop an argument or theft, for example. Employees approved would not be able to divulge any information and the weapon would be kept in immediate control of that person.
Anderson County Sheriff Greg Taylor was one of five to speak during the public hearing. Taylor suggested board-approved employees to be given psychological tests and encouraged intensive training.
“I suggest additional training, more than just what you would get with the CHL,” Taylor said. “I suggest active shooter training. Have them train with us first to see if they are going to be able to handle a firearm.”
Taylor stressed there was difference between protecting your property or car with a CHL and protecting children at a school.
“As a school board, you have to be willing to go the extra mile to make sure people are qualified and properly trained,” Taylor said, noting that the ACSO would be willing to help with the training.
Taylor said it is a good possibility that the Texas State Legislature may approve some kind of training for school districts through the Texas Department of Public Safety.
Speaker James Smith said as a country we tend to protect things that are important.
“Surely we can protect our children,” Smith said. “It’s a different world today that we live in — it’s not like it was 20 years ago. We need to do what we have to do to protect our children, just like we protect our money, protect our children.”
Speaker Larry Fox said he has two children in elementary school and is fairly new to the area. As a combat veteran, he was concerned that the kind of training that a board-approved employee might receive wouldn’t quite train them for the actual situation of pulling a trigger in an emergency situation.
“It’s a lot different when you have to make a split-second decision to take a life,” Fox said. “Do we want to put that on our teachers?”
Fox suggested hiring a retired law enforcement officer to be on campus as an alternative.
CISD teacher Erin Rhone, a former Texas Department of Criminal Justice correctional officer, said she supports the Second Amendment, but doesn’t believe school teachers, for example, should be put in to the position of using a firearm.
“I trust that we will only allow people that are well qualified and well trained to carry a weapon,” Rhone said.
Noting her experience with the prison system, Rhone said there is a reason guns are not allowed inside the prison.
“What if the person trying to protect the children was overpowered?” Rhone asked, suggesting pepper spray or something similar as an alternative.
Retired TDCJ warden Tim West, a certified law enforcement officer, offered his serves for training employees.
“If we advertise that there are no guns here, we may be a sitting target, while is if they know we may have them, they may not consider doing anything,” West said before the school board vote.
School board president Jeff Gunnels was absent.