LTJ explainer: Why LISD won’t arm teachers for now

LISD parent Nick Wisner addresses the board to request they move toward arming teachers. A contingent from Moms Demand Action listens before requesting that teachers remain unarmed. (Photo by Leopold Knopp)

Over the spring of 2018, the U.S. was rocked by reports of mass violence in schools. These types of incidents are nothing new, but two shootings this year seemed to have an acute psychological effect locally – the Feb. 14 shooting in Parkland County, Florida, in which 17 died, and the May 18 shooting in Santa Fe just outside of Houston, in which 10 died.

There were impassioned pleas at each Lewisville ISD trustee meeting after the shootings to join the Texas school marshal program, under which certain teachers would be allowed to carry firearms in class. Shortly following the Santa Fe shooting, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott came out with a plan of 40 school reforms that include limiting entrances and encouraging schools to enter the marshal program. Just within LISD, there have been three school shooting scares, including a deliberate hoax, within the past calendar year.

As all of this has been going on, The Lewisville Texan Journal has been searching for some degree of information on how these decisions are made by LISD officials and police, and what we’ve found is that few decision makers seem to want to take a firm stance on the issue.

LISD superintendent Kevin Rogers has spoken about the prospect of arming teachers several times, and he always leaves the decision up to local law enforcement. He says LISD is in communication with all the law enforcement agencies that touch the district, and police departments don’t think arming teachers is a good idea, so LISD isn’t going to do it.

The head of one such department, Lewisville police chief Kevin Deaver, said none of the other police chiefs were in support of arming teachers at the school safety summit in the spring. He said his personal concerns were over the potential to mistake a teacher for a shooter and for the training of a teacher who might be armed.

Though Deaver was not made police chief until August, he did attend the summit personally.

“Whenever we’re dispatched to a situation like that, we’re looking for a person with a gun,” he said. “I would hate to put our officers in a situation where they may mistake a teacher for the person that is doing the shooting.”

Deaver was also concerned about the training of teachers who might be armed. He said that even police tend to lose accuracy in high-stress situations, and while they train specifically for that, teachers might not. Deaver said he would likely be involved in setting training standards for teachers if LISD did go into the school marshal program.

“If you miss a shot in a school environment, you may well hit a student, or someone else,” he said.  

However, Deaver also said that a school marshal program might be appropriate in a smaller, more rural district, where he could more thoroughly train a smaller number of potential school marshals and they would be better known to a smaller police force — though there are still concerns with county officers and game wardens, who might not know the good guys from the bad, responding.

Deaver said there wasn’t one right answer, and it should ultimately be left up to local leaders.

On the other end of the spectrum, nearby Argyle ISD, which has participated in the school marshal program since 2014, doesn’t want to talk about it anymore. Assistant to the superintendent Tami Barthel said this summer that the school district was no longer giving press interviews on the topic, and that a press release that detailed the policy change was all she could send.

Even David Hernandez, recent Lewisville High School graduate who ran for the board of trustees in May and spent his entire school career in a post-Columbine world, said he would leave it up to local school boards and individual teachers.

“In my personal opinion I believe that local school boards should be given the decision to whether or not to arm teachers, of course after extensive community input and feedback,” he said. “Even with this said no teacher should ever be forced or ‘bullied’ into carrying a firearm. Only those who choose and are qualified should be allowed.”

He said that it was discussed in class, with some teachers wanting to be equipped to protect their students and others not wanting that responsibility on top of all the others, but from a student perspective, he said he and other students thought more about their own actions in the event of a shooting.

The School Safety Task Force’s most popular choices for improving security moving forward. (Image courtesy LISD)

LISD included several security enhancements in its 2017 bond package, including more security cameras and front-door antechambers that could lock and trap potential shooters. Many of these measures have already been implemented.

Over the fall, the school district assembled a School Safety Task Force of parents, teachers and law enforcement officials to survey LISD’s opinions of potential security improvements. Sixty-four members were selected out of 794 applicants to attend multiple meetings.

Most of these meetings were not open to the public, but at its October board meeting, chief schools officer Joseph Coburn presented a breakdown of the task force’s opinions. Out of 15 options for improving school safety, arming teachers and implementing metal detectors were among the lowest scoring choices, with the least popular being a mandate for clear backpacks. The highest scoring choices included mental health and school shooting training for staff, ID badges, security doors and other tools to prevent a shooter from getting inside the school in the first place.

In an email following that meeting, when asked if LISD would push back against potential state mandates to implement these less popular security measures, district spokesperson Amanda Brim said these decisions should be left up to local school systems, and the district will continue to advocate for the right to make these decisions locally.