As the debate to arm teachers in classrooms continues, NBC 5 heads to a Texas school that’s already been arming school employees for more than a decade.
In Harrold, an unincorporated community on U.S. Highway 287 between Wichita Falls and Amarillo, is a school where the safety of students is the priority.
The K-12 school building houses 115 students, many of whom, are transfers from other districts.
“We have parents tell us that they bring their students to our school because they feel like they’re safer here,” said Harrold ISD Superintendent David Thweatt.
It’s a tight-knit community, but there are challenges to its rural location.
If an emergency were to happen, Thweatt estimates it could take 25 minutes for first responders to arrive.
The response time is one reason why he started formulating the Guardian Plan to arm school employees.
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“The main thing was Columbine. We started seeing this happening and it was inevitable that it was going to grow because we really didn’t do anything to stop it,” Thweatt said.
Thweatt’s plan starts with select school employees getting a license to carry a handgun.
“And I’m of the opinion, if you’re not a good shot, you better not have a gun — especially in a school,” said Ray Dunn, of On The Mark Enhanced Tactical Training.
Dunn set up a demonstration at Harrold to show the steps that school employees (or anyone) would go through to receive advanced training.
It’s a virtual target practice with a realistic feel.
“When you’re shooting this one you actually get the effects of a recoil,” Dunn said, while shooting during the demonstration.
He also shows video of mock scenarios of school shootings where the person’s reactions are judged — sometimes by law enforcement.
“If what they see is this person shouldn't have a gun then they shouldn't have a gun. And they're not allowed to have a gun,” Dunn said. He added that for the Guardian Plan to work, practice is key.
Thweatt said his Guardians are required to practice and said they undergo periodic training together as a team.
The actual team members, though, are a mystery. We weren’t allowed to show teachers, but we also couldn’t tell who was armed.
“And I think it’s effective because it adds anonymity to the plan and I think that’s key,” Thweatt said. “If someone is coming into our building, they don’t know where they’re going to meet resistance, and that unknown, from what the data shows us, is something that stops people from coming initially.”
For a school with just three graduating seniors, including Olivia Perez and Cheyenne Thomas, having guns around them at school isn’t a big deal.
“We know about it, but I mean, we don’t ever really discuss it much,” Perez said.
Because for many students, guns are a part of life. “And I’ve been hunting and shooting ever since I was really little. So I’ve been around it my whole life,” Thomas said.
For parent Amanda Litteken, the school’s Guardian Plan is reassuring.
“Knowing that there’s someone here to protect my kids when I can’t be here, that’s very comforting,” Litteken said.
It could be for other parents as well. Thweatt said he believes his Guardian Plan could work for every school.
“Well, you can hope for the best, but you better plan for the worst. You need to be prepared to deal with an active shooter if this is the world we’re living in ... you cannot go on wishing that things are going to be better. You have to take a step forward and do what’s necessary to protect your children,” Thweatt said.
They’re doing what they think is best and if anyone tries to do harm to this small Texas school, they say they’re ready.