Educators in a Texas school district will soon be permitted to carry guns in the classroom, assuming they get approval from the school superintendent, pass a training course and obtain a concealed-handgun license.
The Levelland Independent School District, which is about 30 miles west of Lubbock, instituted the policy in response to last year's deadly shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., as well as the shooting at the Aurora, Colo., movie theater.
"How do you describe a tragedy like that? It's devastating," Levelland ISD Superintendant Kelly Baggett told ABC News, referencing the Sandy Hook massacre. "It absolutely instilled fear in all of us and made us take a hard look at where we are with our safety and security.
Baggett said the Levelland ISD School board voted Thursday for the policy change allowing teachers to carry guns only after extensive research and a series of meetings.
"Not every teacher in Levelland is going to carry a gun to campus," Baggett said. "It will be certain individuals that I and the school approve. The training is paramount. It's absolutely the most important thing."
Under the new policy, teachers would first need to obtain a concealed-handgun license and pass a gun-training course. The exact nature of the training course isn't yet known, but the Texas State Legislature is considering legislation to establish standards for firearms training for public school employees.
Levelland would not be the first Texas school district to arm employees. David Thweatt, superintendent for Harrold Independent School District in north-central Texas, told ABC News his school board voted unanimously to arm school employees after the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting, which he says was a wakeup call.
"The idea that we have moved into a society that the police have to do everything is ridiculous," Thweatt said. "Active shooters know where they are going. If your school is known to have a policy in place where people are protecting children with deadly force, they are not coming to your school."
Thweatt says the training his employees received involved lots of time spent on accuracy and shooting, while the other component involved strategies for clearing and securing rooms. It took about a week to complete.
Baggett of the Levelland district said Texas Law does not allow handguns on public school property, but a loophole exists in the penal code that says that a school board can authorize concealed handguns with the approval of a school attorney. The Levelland ISD has about 3,000 students and 485 staff members spread across eight campuses and, Baggett says, he hopes to arm two employees per campus.
Baggett says the parental and community response to the new policy arrangement has been mostly positive. "For the most part, we are getting very, very nice compliments and encouragement and positive remarks from our community members and they are applauding us for taking a stand and doing what we are doing," he said.
Baggett hopes to get those he chooses to arm trained this summer and have them ready and on campus before the start of the 2013-2014 school year.
"I have reservations about putting weapons in employees' hands," he said. "We are trained educators and it's a shame that it's gotten to the point in society that we are having to arm our school employees to protect their kids. But my philosophy is I want to do everything I can to protect our kids."