Crime

Some Dallas County Schools and Teachers Aren't Ready to Start Bringing Guns into the Classroom

Since the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, the "guardian plan" to arm teachers has picked up momentum.
Since the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, the "guardian plan" to arm teachers has picked up momentum. Alex Wong/Getty Images
Since 2007, school districts across Texas have been adopting the “guardian plan,” a rule that allows select faculty to carry guns on campus in the hopes that teachers can defend their students in the event of a school shooting. Many rural districts in Texas have adopted the plan over the years, but now, nearly seven months after 21 people were murdered at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, the call for “guardians” is arguably attracting more attention from school administrators than ever before.

Last week, Keller school trustees voted 4-3 in favor of allowing its school faculty to be armed on campus. Specific details and guidelines for the Keller district have yet to be determined, although a few key points have been recognized, specifically that the program would be voluntary for teachers.

For now, the guardian program is not widespread across North Texas, but the close vote in Keller as well as the impassioned comments from parents in the district sitting on both sides of the topic suggests that it will continue to be contentiously debated any time it comes up.

In Dallas County, districts and teachers continue to monitor the discussion around allowing faculty to be armed in the classroom but aren't yet ready to go all-in on the guardian plan. In many cases, there are already personnel in place to handle incidents of violence.

Dallas Independent School District employs its own police officers, who do carry weapons, as well as unarmed “school resource officers,” sworn law enforcement officers with arrest powers. Before the start of the 2022 school year the district announced a new safety plan that calls for each DISD school to conduct seven types of standard response protocol (SRP) drills per year.

The role and equipment of school resource officers can vary from district to district. The Richardson Independent School District also utilizes resource officers in its schools, but unlike DISD resource officers, Richardson’s are armed. Grand Prairie Independent School District also has armed, uniformed officers from the local police force stationed at many of its schools.

Schools that do have armed resource officers typically have only one stationed on campus at a time, another factor that proponents of the guardian plan point out.

“Teachers cannot be expected to become highly trained law enforcement officers and use guns in a crisis without endangering students or themselves.” – Rena Honea, President, Alliance-AFT

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On Dec. 12, DISD Chief of Police John Lawton presented a new set of school safety initiatives to the City Council’s public safety committee. The 12-page presentation included enhanced measures to secure a school’s outer perimeter, increased entry safety including metal detectors and wands, and further threat assessment training for faculty. Neither the guardian plan nor the increase in number of weapons were included in the presentation.

Representatives from Dallas, Richardson and Grand Prairie school districts told us that their respective districts haven’t discussed adopting the guardian program in the past, nor do they anticipate the topic arising soon.

As for the teachers of the DISD, carrying guns to school isn’t something they’re ready to accept, according to Rena Honea, president of Dallas education employees union Alliance-AFT. “The position of Alliance-AFT in Dallas regarding arming teachers and school employees is that we are against this reaction to school safety,” Honea wrote in a statement provided to the Observer.

Honea noted that when her organization polled its teachers in June, 77% said they were uncomfortable with being armed in the classroom.

“They felt that other measures made more sense and that our elected legislators were expected to take action to provide safety measures,” Honea explained. “Teachers cannot be expected to become highly trained law enforcement officers and use guns in a crisis without endangering students or themselves.”

It’s fair to question how even teachers who have a certain amount of weapons training will respond to an active shooter roaming a school’s halls. When a school responds in the event of an active shooter, teachers have a list of responsibilities to manage, without introducing a loaded weapon into a scenario that’s likely to be frenzied and worrisome.

DISD uses the standard response protocols as outlined by the I Luv U Guys Foundation, which means teachers and staff must conduct the “hold,” “secure,” “lockdown,” “evacuate” and “shelter” actions. Each of these response stages involves teachers taking steps such as clearing hallways of people, ensuring their students are accounted for, locking doors, turning out lights and moving students into safe, out-of-the-way spaces – all while their students are likely, literally, fearing for their lives.

This potentially chaotic scenario is why Honea says her union is largely against teachers being armed on campus. “We know from the Uvalde incident," she said, "that even law enforcement officers make costly mistakes in a crisis situation after being well trained.” 
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Kelly Dearmore

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