KEENE, TX — In a 6 to 1 vote Wednesday night, December 16, the Keene Independent School District (KISD) Board of Trustees took an action intended to keep its Johnson County, Texas schools safe from gun violence like the December 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. The board approved a so-called "Guardian Program" that will allow faculty members in district schools to carry guns on campus. KISD includes an elementary, a middle school, a high school and an alternative learning institute.
Keene's district recently lost its school resource officer (a sworn law enforcement officer responsible for security and crime prevention within school systems), and hired Tim Kosar in September to serve as the district's Police Chief. According to Dan E. Roberts, who serves on the KISD board, Mr. Kosar floated the idea of arming teachers after coming on board with the district.
Mr. Roberts, who is the General Manager of the Chaf-In Restaurant in neighboring Cleburne, Texas, was the lone dissenting vote Wednesday. I spoke with him by phone about the decision to arm teachers and why he opposed the measure.
"I’m against having the guns on campus," he said. "I have no problem with people having guns, but I don’t personally use one."
The issue, he said, is that those who have committed acts of violence on campuses are almost always related in some way to the campus. The Sandy Hook Elementary shooter had attended that school for a brief time, for instance, and the shooter in the recent San Bernardino shooting was a co-worker of those he killed. Roberts said arming teachers would create the potential for teachers having to make decisions to kill people they know, possibly their students.
"My concern is for the wellbeing of the teacher," he said, and noted that "many parents and older educators" opposed the measure as well.
A graduate of Southwestern Adventist University and former mayor of Keene, Mr. Roberts said that during his time as mayor "forty or forty-five years ago," he considered taking guns out of the hands of police officers. Mr. Roberts supports the use of tazers as an alternative to guns in KISD schools. "The more guns you have, the more potential for problems you have," Roberts said.
Noting his Adventist education from first grade through college, Mr. Roberts said, "It's hard, being reared a conscientious objector, to change the mindset."
ADVENTIST SCHOOLS IN KEENE
The City of Keene, located south of the Dallas/Ft. Worth metroplex, is also home to a sizable Seventh-day Adventist community, including Keene Adventist Elementary, Chisholm Trail Academy, and Southwestern Adventist University.
I spoke with Chisholm Trail Academy Principal Tommy Simons, who said that the KISD decision has no immidiate implications for Keene's Adventist schools.
"For us in this little community of Keene, if the public school system does something, people sometimes feel it’s in the best interest for parochial schools to do it too," he said, but noted that Chisolm Trail answers to its own board and to the Texas Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. Mr. Simons said that the Texas Conference had a discussion about arming individuals on Adventist campuses about a year ago, but the conference has not asked schools to consider arming teachers.
Simons said that he feels caught in the middle of the debate. While he is not personally opposed, he said he has no intention of pushing the issue of guns on Adventist campuses.
"Though Keene is this tiny hole-in-the-wall town, you can’t ignore what’s happening," he said, referencing the spate of mass shootings that continues unabated in the United States. Mr. Simons is not anxious to have his teachers "packing heat," he told me. "I know there’s a couple people here that wouldn’t have a problem doing it, but I wouldn’t want to mandate it."
On the campus of Southwestern Adventist University, students are not allowed to have weapons in their possession. The 2015-2016 Student Handbook states, "The possession and use of firearms, guns (including air soft, BB, paintball, pellet, etc.) and other forms of weapons (knives, bows and arrows, numchucks, etc.) by students on university property is prohibited."
Darcy Force, Southwestern's Director for Marketing and Public Relations, confirmed that the university has no plans to begin allowing guns on campus, or to arm faculty members there. This despite a statewide bill set to take effect in 2016 that would allow students and faculty members on Texas university campuses to carry concealed weapons. Private institutions may opt out of the so-called "Campus-Carry" bill, and Southwestern will be among the schools that continue to disallow weapons on campus.
The Niche.com website ranks Southwestern Adventist University third safest campus out of 63 Texas colleges and universities. The website's rankings factor in student surveys on safety, campus crime rates, Freshman retention and graduation rates, local crime grades, and alcohol and drug-related arrests. In Niche's survey, the City of Keene received a "B" rating for crime, "A" being the highest possible.
After Wedenesday's vote, KISD will begin taking steps to arm teachers. According to Dan Roberts, the district's first step will be to talk to an insurance liability carrier. Next, those designated to carry arms will undergo medical, physical and psychological exams prior to being trained for handling weapons. KISD Police Chief Kosar says that they will undergo a minimum of 80 hours of training a year.
Jared Wright is Managing Editor of SpectrumMagazine.org.
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