Argyle ISD has allowed certain teachers to carry guns on campus for four years now, but in the aftermath of the Parkland, Florida, school shooting that left 17 people dead, eyes all over the country have turned to the suburban school district as officials grapple with the idea of arming teachers.
Argyle is one of 172 districts in Texas that allow teachers to carry weapons on campus. Several policymakers, including President Donald Trump, have advocated in recent days for arming teachers and some national media outlets have singled Argyle out for its policy.
The district hosted a news conference Thursday to clear up misconceptions about its policy and answer any lingering questions. Here's what you need to know:
How did this policy come about?
After the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, school officials began looking at ways to better protect students.
The district held a community forum to get feedback from parents and by January 2014, the school board had established its own district police department and approved a policy that would allow certain staff members to carry firearms on campus.
"I've had many emails of affirmation [from parents] thanking the district for what we're doing," Superintendent Telena Wright said during the news conference.
Who can participate in the program?
Any person who has been employed by the district for at least one year and has a concealed handgun license may ask to be part of the program. Argyle ISD Police Chief Paul Cairney said each participant is a volunteer and does not receive a stipend. Whether a staff member participates in the program has no affect on their employment with the district, he added.
To be selected for the program, applicants also must undergo a psychological evaluation and additional firearm training, according to Cairney. Once they pass the training, they have to be approved by the police chief, superintendent and school board. School board members also are allowed to participate if they meet the requirements and pass the training.
Cairney said he was prohibited by state law to say how many employees are armed. He added that the only people who knew the identities of the participants were other armed employees, campus principals, AISD police officers and the superintendent.
What training do armed employees go through?
Cairney said volunteers go through three to five days of initial training based on their level of expertise. The training starts with basic firearm safety and handling, then gradually moves toward advanced shooting techniques and decision-making processes (i.e. when to shoot or not to shoot.)
At the end of the training, volunteers are put in an active shooter simulation that requires them to confront and take down an intruder. After passing the initial training, volunteers are required to spend a certain number of hours a year at a gun range with AISD officers to practice, Cairney said.
What's the difference between Argyle's program and the school marshal program put in place by the Texas Legislature in 2013?
While the participant qualifications of both programs are similar, Cairney said there were two main differences between the two.
School marshals are required to undergo 80 hours of training, whereas Argyle's training program is shorter. Cairney said that's because Argyle staff members don't have the authority to arrest someone, but school marshals under the state program do.
School marshals also must keep their weapons locked away in their office or classroom during the school day. Argyle's armed staff members are instructed to keep a concealed handgun and additional ammunition on their person at all times.
"We know that in situations like that, every second counts," Cairney said. "We think it’s much more effective for our armed staff to have the weapon on them at all times and can immediately respond if something happens."
Does the program work?
It's hard to say whether Argyle's policy has been effective because the school has never had an active shooter situation. The district posts signs at every campus warning visitors that staff members are armed and will use force if necessary. Cairney also added that no staff member has had to use their weapon since the policy began.
"A lot of people ask how well it works and I always say, 'I don’t know and I hope I never find out,'" he said.
CAITLYN JONES can be reached at 940-566-6862.