SADLER — The Sadler and Southmayd Consolidated Independent School District received public input Monday on its proposed Defender Program. If approved, the program would allow District-authorized staff to carry concealed handguns on campus. The program would serve as an additional level of security at District facilities in the event of an armed intruder on campus grounds, S&S officials said.
The program would allow teachers and other District personnel with a Concealed Handgun License to volunteer for additional training, which would then allow them to carry their own concealed handguns on campus grounds, after receiving approval from the Board and superintendent.
“I was not a big proponent of (guns on campus) at first,” S&S Superintendent Tommy Hunter said. Hunter said the more he reviewed the program the more he felt it was the right choice for the District. Prior to the Defender Program, he said, the District looked into the School Marshal program, which would dedicate one armed individual on District campuses for every 400 students in the District, but felt that this would leave the marshals spread too thin across the District.
S&S staff who complete the training and are authorized by the District, will be allowed to carry their own semi-automatic firearms. The District has elected to use standard, defensive ammunition and .22 caliber to .45 caliber weapons for the proposed program. Ector and Bonham, which both have similar programs, use hollow-point and frangible ammunition, respectively.
In addition to the presence of armed staff on campuses, the program would also equip each classroom with an electronic safe that will contain a pepper spray gun, with additional room for a handgun and the magazine, which must remain separate while on District property, said Hunter.
In describing the need for the program, Hunter said it will be fulfilling the need for added security at District schools. “If (students) are in our schools and they were sick, there is a nurse they can go to,” Hunter said, drawing the comparison between health services and security on campuses.
The District will also be implement a series of traditional security upgrades throughout its campuses starting next school year. Over the course of the summer, the District will increase security by adding security cameras and controlled access to campus entrances, enclosed walkways at the elementary school and perimeter fencing around the middle school.
In researching and planning for the program, the District approached Lewisville Police Department Lt. Michael Lane, who also is a CHL certification instructor, to train personnel for the program. Lane, who has served with the LPD for over 16 years as a firearms instructor, armorer and SWAT team leader, said he has experiences in his career where he arrived too late to assist in calls where a weapon was involved.
“I wasn’t there when they needed me,” said Lane. “When seconds counted, I was minutes away.”
In describing the three, eight-hour sessions that District personnel will go through before being allowed to carry, Lane said the purpose of his program is not to train hostage negotiators. Instead, Lane said his program covers topics like emergency tactics, emergency wound care and malfunction clearance techniques, in addition to weapon proficiency.
Feedback on the program from the public remained mostly positive Monday, however many in attendance expressed concern about the District’s plans to keep the guns unloaded when not in use. Amy Hedtke, who attended the meeting, said the unloaded handgun is as useful as a rock in an emergency. Others asked about the potential use of retention holsters, which isolates the trigger and makes it harder to reach while in the holster. This could allow staff to safely carry a loaded gun.
In response, Lane said retention holsters are not conducive to concealed carry, and that many handguns do not have retention holsters available for them. By separating the gun from the magazine, the District is trying to reduce the chance of an accidental discharge, said Lane. If someone were to separate a teacher from their firearm, they would only have an unloaded gun, said Hunter.
Other individuals expressed concern about a potential situation where a teacher might have a weapon in the safe, but be away from the classroom during an emergency. Hunter explained that some District personnel have duties that would prevent them from carrying a firearm at all times. Hunter gave the example of a gym teacher who may need to dress in shorts for classes.
Kara Hamilton, one of Monday’s attendees, asked how long it would take a teacher to retrieve a weapon from the safe and load it. The Board estimated that it would take less than 15 seconds. Hamilton said if it takes a teacher less than 15 seconds, she felt that it was acceptable to keep the weapon separate from the magazine. Hamilton admitted that she doesn’t like the idea of concealed carry on campuses, but said she believes that the District is handling the program correctly and safely.
Hamilton also expressed concerns about who would handle costs for therapy and counselling for students if a teacher ever had to fire a weapon in a classroom. Additionally, Hamilton asked why the District elected to forgo psychological evaluation of applicants and instead require that applicants work within the District for 24 months prior to being allowed to carry on campuses.
Hunter said he has concerns about how useful psychological evaluations would be when it is possible to bluff through them. He said, two years of working with an individual would give the District a good gauge of someone’s demeanor and character.
Hamilton also inquired about how substitute teachers would be addressed in the program. She asked, how would substitutes know how to handle an emergency under the new program. Hunter said substitute teachers would not be allowed to carry firearms under the Defender Program, and said the Board would discuss how to address the substitute concern.
Other individuals asked if the District’s insurance would cover a teacher’s legal fees if they were to injure or kill someone on campus. Hunter said the District had spoken with its insurance company, and that it would cover the teacher’s costs in that situation.
“If it saved one kid’s life, then that’s an expense we will gladly pick up,” said Hunter.
Other concerns from the public included the possibility of added security on school buses, and the possible use of stun guns over the pepper spray as a more direct answer to a threat on campus. Hunter said the Board is looking into adding the safes onto the District’s school buses. In regards to stun guns, Lane said the device requires two probes to come into contact with the individual to deliver a charge and stop an individual. He said the pepper spray is a more reliable option.
Hunter said he was happy with the turnout of the event and the discussion and feedback he received from the community.
“I feel like it was a positive response to a very controversial program,” said Hunter. “To have our community support us when we are looking to put guns in our school system is a very comforting and reassuring thing.”