Monday, December 16, 2013

Inside a School Where Teachers Pack Heat

Jonesboro superintendent packing heat?

Inside a School Where Teachers Pack Heat
A year after Newtown, schools still debate whether guns in the classroom make kids safer.
By Nicholas Kusnetz
Center for Public Integrity
Dec. 16, 2013

It wasn't quite cold enough to need a vest on a recent Texas morning, but Matt Dossey was wearing one anyway. Made of heavy canvas, the vest might have concealed a pistol. There was no way to tell. Perhaps that was the point.

Dossey is superintendent at Jonesboro Independent School District, which serves a tiny community in the rolling Texas scrubland north of Austin. In January, the district decided to arm a select group of staffers with concealed weapons.

Jonesboro straddles the border between Coryell and Hamilton counties; it's more than 15 miles to the nearest sheriff's department. The town is unincorporated, and has no government or police. If someone were to attack the school, Dossey said, no one's coming to protect the kids—not quickly, anyway.

Dossey was standing inside the school cafeteria, where students motored around a room decorated with harvest-themed paper cutouts. The district was hosting a pre-holiday Thanksgiving dinner, when parents join kids for a school lunch of turkey and stuffing. Looking around the room, Dossey, who hadn't taken off his vest, said the new policy adds a layer of security that most everyone in town is happy with.

"If somebody walked in that door and opened fire," he said, "we would have a chance."

Ever since Adam Lanza killed 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, last December, school districts and state governments have searched for better ways to protect students. Lawmakers introduced hundreds of school safety bills. Many called for arming more security guards or for arming teachers. Others went the opposite direction, tightening gun laws.

In Monroe, Connecticut, just nine miles from Sandy Hook, residents supported a range of expensive measures. The town, which spreads out from a village green between two white-steepled churches, spent hundreds of thousands of dollars upgrading buildings and hiring school resource officers, town cops who are posted at schools. The move is largely in step with what happened statewide. Lawmakers passed sweeping legislation in April that included gun controls, such as expanded background checks and mandates for school security. The Legislature also funded millions of dollars in infrastructure grants and tightened state law covering guns in school so that only active or retired law enforcement officers can serve as armed guards.

"I don't believe a teacher would just kill a kid right there. I've walked up in front of a kid who had a gun. I know how it feels."

Texas, on the other hand, has not appropriated money to school security and is not creating mandates. Jonesboro is one of about 70 districts to arm staff since Sandy Hook. This year, the Legislature encouraged more to do the same, passing a bill that created a state-run training program that will allow districts to designate staff as "school marshals," an entirely new class of law enforcement (districts must pay the costs).

At first glance, the disparate approaches appear simply to reflect a stereotypical divide between two regions of America with their own closely held views of guns and their place in daily life. But a closer look shows that what's happened in Jonesboro and Monroe also reflects a broader set of beliefs about the role of government, about local control, and perhaps most importantly, about taxes...

No comments: