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Union Grove ISD OKs arming some teachers, administrators

By Christina Lane
Jan. 17, 2013 at 11 p.m.

UNION GROVE - With wholehearted support from its community, the Union Grove ISD board enacted a policy Thursday night to allow select, licensed and trained teachers and administrators to possess a firearm on campus.

Union Grove ISD, a 2A school district with 761 students in rural Upshur County, is the second district in Texas to enact such a policy. The first was Harrold ISD in 2007.

"The worst thing we can do is nothing," said Union Grove school board Vice President Rusty Dyar.

The board changed its safety program/risk management emergency plans and adopted a resolution Monday night to allow firearms on campus in the possession of select employees.

The policy states only those school employees who have obtained and maintain a current license to carry a concealed handgun, in accordance with state law, are eligible to be selected. Additionally, it states any employee who is authorized to possess a gun must complete - at the district's expense - additional training in crisis intervention, management of hostage situations and other "relevant" training that the board determines necessary. The school board is considering allocating $10,000 a year in its budget to pay for training.

<strong>More details</strong>

Superintendent Brian Gray specified it will not be disclosed which teachers or administrators are armed. The board will continue to discuss further details in the coming weeks of how the policy will be put into place. Decisions yet to be made include whether the guns will be carried on the employees' bodies or locked in an undisclosed location on the campuses.

Board members said Thursday's community meeting was key to moving forward with the policy. Gray sent a letter home to parents Wednesday informing them of the board's policy change and inviting them to express their views at the meeting. When he asked the approximately 50 people in attendance at Thursday's meeting whether they support the policy change, every parent (not including school board members or law enforcement officers) raised his or her hand.

"I think that I speak for most everybody here - if not 100 percent - that I'm very happy to know that y'all are being so proactive, so thank you," Shara Stanley said in addressing the school board. "It was nice to get that note and read it and just say, 'Whoa, they are thinking about my child.' Not that there was really any doubt, but it was confirmation that the safety of our children is paramount."

Union Grove's discussion was sparked after a December shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., that killed 20 children and six adults.

<strong>'First responders'</strong>

Union Grove ISD is not in an incorporated city and therefore does not receive active police service from a city. The district is served by Upshur County Sheriff's Office, based 12 miles away in Gilmer.

"Union Grove ISD folks are going to be here if something bad happens. That's a fact. We will be the first responders - without a doubt," Gray said. "We're on the south end of Upshur County. Now, I might have an Upshur County sheriff's deputy two minutes away - maybe. That's still two minutes. In all likelihood, they're 10 minutes away, 15 minutes away. Would Gladewater PD respond if we have a serious 911 emergency? Yes, they will, but they don't know my school district. They don't know my kids. They're not familiar with us at all."

The school board began exploring options, such as a school resource officer, changing its entry doorways so that a key fob must be scanned to enter, changing doorways to buzz in visitors, and other measures. While all of those things are still on the table, Gray said the board decided arming teachers was one of the best options. He noted that Sandy Hook Elementary School had cameras and locked doors, but Adam Lanza still shot his way into the building.

"Here's the question I asked my parents - if somebody were to come in here and bring harm to our kids, would you want it stopped as quickly as possible?" Gray said. "If the answer is yes, then we need to look at every option available to meet those ends. We are doing a disservice if we don't pursue every possible option available."

<strong>The right person</strong>

Union Grove father and Longview police Sgt. Larry Webb said he discussed with the district's trustees that the key to the policy was having the right person - mentally, physically and with the training - to possess a firearm.

"When you have a deadly force situation, the sooner you can interfere, the more lives you can save," said Webb, who has 18 years of experience with the Longview Police Department and an additional five years of military training. Webb met with Union Grove trustees, along with Spring Hill School Resource Officer Roger Askew and officer Tim Barnett.

Webb said he is supportive of Union Grove's policy change with the understanding that those employees selected will undergo thorough training.

While no parent at Thursday's meeting expressed dissent, the biggest discussion was about whether the school personnel with access to a firearm should carry the gun on their bodies or whether the firearms should be placed in locked, undisclosed locations.

The majority of parents said they are more in favor of the school employees carrying the guns.

"I want to make sure that if (a gunman) comes into your classroom, the gun is not in the office," mother Chelsey Parman said. These are my babies here. I don't want him to come in their classroom and the gun is not there."

While the school board did not specify whether it will place the guns in locked, undisclosed locations or on the individuals themselves, trustees said they appreciated parents' feedback.

Safety measures the school district already has in place include an emergency operations plan that details lock-down and evacuation procedures, staff practice and review of procedures and intruder training.

The school board also recently approved buying a state-of-the-art 75-camera surveillance system that will be installed in February as well as additional exterior lighting districtwide.



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