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Some Argyle ISD staff to have guns

Profile image for By Britney Tabor / Staff Writer
By Britney Tabor / Staff Writer

School board OKs new policy, district to put up signs as a deterrent

ARGYLE — Some Argyle school district employees will be armed with guns and are authorized to use force if necessary to protect students under a new district policy approved this week.

Signs warning visitors that staff members could be armed will go up at the district’s three campuses beginning Monday and the policy will take effect next week, Argyle Superintendent Telena Wright said Wednesday.

The school board late Tuesday adopted a policy allowing employees to carry certain firearms on district property, at events sponsored or sanctioned by the district and at board meetings.

“Armed staff answers the question: What about the first one to two minutes in [a] crisis situation where there’s an armed shooter?” Wright said. “That seems to be a horrific situation that all schools across the nation are attempting to address.

“This is our answer to how we best protect our students,” she said.

Wright said the signs that will be posted should serve as a warning to anyone who might consider entering a campus with a weapon.

“It’s intended as a deterrent to someone who’s thinking of coming on campus with a gun,” she said. “It lets them know that they will be in a situation where others are armed.”

In a unanimous 7-0 vote, the school board adopted the policy allowing trustees to authorize specific district staff who are selected from a pool of volunteers to carry firearms. Those staff members will not be identified, according to district officials.

“I think the overwhelming factor for us was response time to an emergency situation,” board President Kevin Faciane said. “We wanted to do everything in our power and resources to make certain that we had the fastest response time to any emergency situation on our campus.”

According to a statement released by the district Wednesday, only district employees who hold a license to carry a concealed handgun would be considered for approval to carry a weapon on campus.

Those selected to carry firearms on district property must undergo and pass “a rigorous interview process, a complete psychological evaluation and a comprehensive firearms and emergency training course” prior to being authorized by the board, according to the statement.

District officials say they will not disclose the number or identities of employees authorized to carry on district property, or whether the weapons will be on the body of the person or locked away, Faciane said.

Those selected to carry firearms will be required to “participate in an ongoing requalification process” throughout the school year and “ongoing, district-wide emergency response and active shooter trainings and exercises will be held at each Argyle ISD campus throughout the school year,” according to the statement.

The school district held a pilot program in the fall to train an undisclosed number of district employees to carry firearms on campus, Wright said.

The district passed a resolution in August to form its own police department. Paperwork has been submitted to the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement for the school district to be recognized as a police department and officials with the commission say the application is pending.

In October, the district hired Ralph Price, an Addison reserve police officer and director of security for the Greenhill School, to serve as its police chief. Price, who started work for Argyle in December, will be overseeing the program in which district employees will be carrying weapons on campus, Wright said.

State Rep. Jason Villalba, R-Dallas, said the Argyle policy is a result of a new state law, the Protection of Texas Children Act, that he authored in the Legislature last year that allows the creation of school marshals.

“I have a daughter attending a public elementary school and very soon two more will follow in her footsteps,” Villalba said in a press release responding to the Argyle board’s decision. “Like all parents, I am deeply concerned for their safety, and all Texas children during the school day.”

Response to the district’s policy was mixed on social media. Comments on the Denton Record-Chronicle’s website and Facebook page Wednesday drew opposition from some and praise from others.

Since the shooting in December 2012 at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut that killed 20 children and six adults, the Argyle district has examined measures for making its facilities safer. In addition to establishing the police department and approval of the new policy, the district last year brought in a Dallas firm to conduct a facilities risk assessment.

An apparent error in posting the school board’s meeting agenda could make the new policy subject to legal challenge, however, according to attorney Bill Aleshire of Austin, an open government expert who volunteers for the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas.

The state’s open meeting laws require government agencies to post notices of items that will be considered at public meetings. Aleshire told the Denton Record-Chronicle that errors in posting can allow someone to question the validity of the law in court.

The legal notice of the board meeting made reference to consideration of a “CKE” policy, which describes the establishment of the police department. The new policy, however, was instead a “CKC” policy, but the policy posted on the district’s website Wednesday did not include wording that authorized some employees to carry firearms.

Faciane said the agenda included “miswording.” He said prior to the board’s vote, a correction was made to explain that the description of the policy was accurate but that the policy lettering was not. He said the board discussed the issue with its attorney, whom Faciane said was present at Tuesday’s meeting. The attorney advised the board to clarify the wording before taking a vote, he said.

Wright said individuals with questions may contact her at 940-464-7241.

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