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Whitehouse ISD Joins More Than 300 Texas Districts in Arming Educators

After a 2018 shooting in Santa Fe, Texas that left 10 dead and 13 others wounded, schools all over the state rushed to prepare for future violent acts. One way they’ve done this is by arming teachers.

According to a 2018 survey by the Texas Association of School Boards, more than 30 percent of Texas school districts have approved teachers to carry concealed handguns.

In August, Whitehouse Independent School District (WISD) joined more than 300 other districts in arming educators – which was first approved by Texas legislatures in 2013 as House Bill 1009 and expanded in 2019 with Senate Bill 11.

“The Guardian Plan is really designed to do one thing,” said Kevin Whitman, WISD director of student auxiliary services. “That is to mitigate or stop people who would choose to do violent acts toward our teachers or students and staff. We recognize that law enforcement can’t be there every single time, immediately, when things occur.”

Talks of implementing the Guardian Plan began as far back as 2013, said Whitman. But after he attended a school safety conference in Corpus Christi, Texas last summer, things sped up. Whitman brought home the information and shared it with district administrators who began the formal planning process. By May, the plan was brought to the Board of Trustees and approved by a 4-0 vote.

The program has also received zero resistance from the community. This summer, school board meetings were being held virtually because of COVID-19. In an attempt to encourage a town hall type discussion for this topic, the board met for the vote in person, but Whitman said no one really showed up.

Much of the information around the Guardian Plan remains unavailable because of its confidential nature. Whitman couldn’t say how many WISD teachers were carrying weapons, but did say there was at least one “guardian” at each of its seven campuses.

“It’s not far-fetched to think that people in that position may become targets at some point,” said Whitman. “We did this out of protection for everyone that’s involved in the program. To be real honest with you, teachers don’t know a whole lot. The same information we have shared with parents, we shared with teachers.”

Before school started on Aug. 18, parents and teachers were sent a half-page letter announcing the implementation of the program for the 2020-2021 school year. Whitman said the district also posted about it on social media.

Leah Stanley, a WISD teacher said she knew little about the program, except that it was in place.

“Unless you are the teacher carrying the gun, you know nothing,” she said. “These teachers are anonymous. I do feel safe knowing someone is carrying. I, of course, do not feel worthy to carry one at school.”

WISD parent Kirstie Harrison expressed a similar opinion.

“Other schools have safely been doing this for years and I was happy to hear Whitehouse was implementing it as well,” said Harrison. “I am happy to know that if anything happens at school, there is someone ready to protect our kids. It is very important for them to be trained properly on gun carry and safety.”

So far, Whitman hasn’t seen much push back from students either. However, the Whitehouse High School student newspaper is currently investigating the program and Whitman said their main concern was also teacher training.

“We were not satisfied with the Texas [training] standard,” said Whitman. “The Texas standard is very minimal. We don’t really like to do things that are minimal in nature. We want to go above and beyond and really, really do things the right way.”

To participate, teachers must complete a state mandated four to six-hour license to carry (LTC) class and 16 hours of additional training through the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS). Another 80 hours of training, required by the district, must be completed in the first year. Following the first year, teachers undergo 40 hours of training and range practice annually.

The district-required training is done through a private firearm instructor who owns their own security company. Whitman couldn’t disclose who the trainer was, but said they had experience working with corporate security, law enforcement, churches and schools.

Lonny Haschel, Texas Department of Public Safety media and communications lieutenant, said DPS licenses local LTC instructors to provide school safety training, but does not actually administer physical instruction to school district employees who take part in the program.

East Texas Firearm Instructor Patrick Griffin teaches a “react to an active shooter” course and has provided it to both churches and businesses in the area. He hasn’t trained any teachers, but his course’s curriculum covers school specific scenarios. Griffin said not every teacher will have what it takes.

“Giving the high school football coach permission to have a weapon in his class room or his office does not mean he has the capability to stare down a shooter,” said Griffin. “Everyone needs a certain level of training to be able to do that. Not only do you need to know how to prepare for the active shooter, but if you’re going to carry a weapon, you need to know how to actively change the behavior of the threat.”

Griffin also believes that teachers should have a first aid course specific to treating gunshot wounds.

“What are you going to do when you do CPR and blood starts squirting out of somebody's chest?” said Griffin. “If they want to add more firearms to schools I think that would make them safer. I do think it’s a good program if it’s done correctly.”

In addition to completing the required training, each teacher must also be approved by the district. The committee is composed of upper-level district administrators as well as a firearm instructor. Whitman couldn’t comment on the committee’s demographics but said there were both male and female teachers participating.

“The program is diverse,” said Whitman. “The members are diverse. So to answer your question if the program is full of four or five dozen white males, it is not.”

The committee has not denied any of the teachers wanting to participate. However, several have removed themselves from the approval process after deciding they were not right for the job. Whitman said the committee is looking at several qualifications including classroom management, temperament and demeanor.

The exact cost of the program is confidential but Whitman said a program of this size would typically cost $60,000-$100,000 to start and include additional annual costs associated with on-going training. Teachers are not paid for participating but rather treated as volunteers. In addition to the Guardian Plan, WISD has also launched campaigns to monitor and improve the mental health of students.

“Twenty-seven years ago I started in the classroom,” said Whitman. “I never once thought, at that time, that teachers would ever carry firearms. It is something that I wish we didn’t need to do. My hope would be that someday we don’t but the reality is it’s probably not going away and it’s probably going to become more and more prevalent in campuses and districts across the state and probably across the United States.”

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