District tackles safety issues

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Argyle ISD takes steps needed to hire resource officer, may arm staff

ARGYLE — The Argyle school district is taking steps toward potentially hiring a school resource officer and amending district policy to arm district staff and officials on campuses.

In a special meeting Wednesday, the school board voted 4-2 in favor of Superintendent Telena Wright meeting with local law enforcement agencies to potentially draft a collaborative agreement for hiring a school resource officer. The official hiring of a school resource officer is subject to board approval.

In a separate motion, the board approved an action 5-1 authorizing Wright to amend district policies and develop new policies to allow school staff and school officials to carry firearms on campus, subject to the board’s approval of each individual carrier.

Wright said she intends to bring the amended policy before the board for consideration in the next 60 days.

On April 24, the district hosted a community forum in which courses of action to increase security such as arming district staff, hiring a school resource officer or armed security guards, and campus security upgrades were presented. An estimated 85 people attended the discussion in the Argyle High School auditorium and also offered feedback on the courses of action presented.

Since the school shooting last December at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., that killed 20 schoolchildren and six adults, the Argyle school district has examined measures for proactively protecting students and staff and securing district facilities.

Last December the school board called for an independent audit and study of district safety procedures. In January, Argyle hired Dallas firm Craft International LLC to conduct a facilities risk assessment, “Not on My Watch,” which was conducted Feb. 25-27.

At the meeting, Craft International officials presented a series of recommendations for the district as a result of the assessment. The recommendations include developing a threat intervention plan, improving campus access, arming staff, hiring armed guards and implementing table-top exercises and full-scale drills.

Feedback from parents was mixed at the April 24 meeting. While some parents favored arming staff, others supported the district hiring a school resource officer.

Parents also brought concerns that the district had not engaged staff who could potentially be faced with becoming armed or having armed co-workers on campus and with Craft International conducting the risk assessment with no prior experience working with a school district. It was suggested the district look at other firms with experience in working with school districts regarding security-related matters.

Greg Coker with Craft International said at the April 24 meeting that while Argyle would be its first school district client, the firm has expertise in assessing buildings across the world and that it would look at district facilities the same way it would any other building a potential “bad guy” would attempt to get into.

Incoming board member and parent Greg Aune, who spoke during the public comment portion of Wednesday’s meeting, said training staff to be armed is a stressful situation. He said he’d like to see armed law enforcement officials on campus.

Wright said a school resource officer is something the district has never had but has needed for quite some time, and it would be “a proactive measure” for Argyle to pursue. The district in the past has hired Argyle police and county constables for district events and travel, according to district officials.

It’s estimated that hiring a school resource officer could cost the district between $60,000 and $70,000 annually. District officials say they’re hopeful that a collaborative agreement with a local law enforcement agency can be reached and that a school resource officer will be hired in time for the 2013-14 school year.

Wright said Wednesday that it was the recommendation of the district security committee, made up of district staff and Argyle police and fire chiefs, that the district arm staff.

School board President Kevin Faciane, who voted against the policy amendment to arm staff and school officials, said prior to the vote that he favors an armed presence on campus “for prevention, for protection,” and that he would like that person to be a peace officer. He said that while he’s not opposed to arming staff, he sees it as premature prior to putting a school resource officer or security professional on campus.

“We would be putting the cart before the horse,” Faciane said.

Board member Spencer Jefferies said he favored the district starting the process in hiring a school resource officer and that he supported it being at Wright’s discretion whether the officer was with the Argyle Police Department or county sheriff’s office. He said there are benefits to having a school resource officer beyond deterring a potential shooter, such as dealing with offenses on campus such as drugs.

Outgoing board member Steven Moore said the district is long overdue for a school resource officer and feels it will be “money well spent.” He said he also believes the district should take a look at recommendations for securing district facilities day-to-day and that the district should begin the process in training to arm staff but that he’s not sure at the end of the process how many people will be prepared for carrying a gun on campus.

Board members Jim Haltom, Peggy Miller and Eric Fields said they all favor arming district staff.

While Miller said that after looking at all the options, she would rather have her child at school with an educator who could protect them, Haltom said he endorsed the district hiring a school resource officer but that he doesn’t think one person can be everywhere. He said he believed arming staff and removing signs that advertise the schools are gun-free zones would deter potential shooters.

Fields, who sided with Haltom, said a school resource officer would increase security to a point. He asked in doing so if the district is getting what it pays for and whether students and staff are “really” being protected.

“In my mind, I don’t think we’re asking our staff any more than they already should be doing in keeping our kids safe,” Fields said. “To not give them that ability to defend those kids just doesn’t add up to me.

“I just feel we should give them the ability to stop a life-and-death situation for themselves and for our children.”

Training for arming district staff has not been approved, Wright said, and will have to be brought before the board for consideration. Provided the board approves training, school staff can volunteer but would have to be selected to go through training by district administration, she said.

Once training is completed, the board will consider who would actually be armed on campuses.

BRITNEY TABOR can be reached at 940-566-6876 and via Twitter at @BritneyTabor.

 


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