More than three years have passed since an armed gunman invaded Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, and fatally shot 20 school-age children and six adults. In that time, school districts across the nation have made strides in security systems to prevent any other school tragedies. In Grayson County and Fannin County, four school districts have taken an extra step by allowing teachers to carry firearms to protect their children.

More than three years have passed since an armed gunman invaded Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, and fatally shot 20 school-age children and six adults. In that time, school districts across the nation have made strides in security systems to prevent any other school tragedies. In Grayson County and Fannin County, four school districts have taken an extra step by allowing teachers to carry firearms to protect their children.


"About two years ago, the board approved concealed campus carry firearms for qualified personnel, which would be teachers or any staff members," Collinsville Independent School District Superintendent Mark Dykes said. "So every year, they reapprove that list."


The Collinsville board of trustees approved their list of Level III defenders in a meeting earlier this month. The district is now entering its third year in the Defender Program. Other school districts with similar Defender Programs include the S&S Consolidated School District, Ector Independent School District and Bonham Independent School District. These districts approved each of their respective Defender Programs for the third year running earlier this summer.


Dykes said that most Defender Programs operate on three tiers to protect students.


"The first level is teachers are trained on how to use whatever is in the room to protect and conceal children in case of an armed intruder," he said. "Level II training is staff are trained in the use of pepper spray canisters. In that situation, Level I would be happening and Level II is a way to fend off an armed intruder. Level III is for staff that have passed a psychological examination by a licensed psychologist. Second they have to have gone through and completed a handgun safety and marksmanship course that is provided by a company that the board has hired. So that’s how you get to be a Level III defender."


At the time the board first considered implementing a program like this, Dykes said the board deliberated for several months. Ultimately, however, it decided arming teachers would be a positive component to school security.


"In our smaller towns with our police forces, sometimes their resources are limited and unfortunately data shows that with these type of school shootings, on average they last about four to five minutes; they’re not long," he said. "The response time on police can sometimes be longer than that. So I think that’s one of the reasons the board chose to go with something like that."


Bonham ISD Superintendent Marvin Beaty said security is something his district takes very seriously, even going as far as adding new COPsync software this year to further protect students in addition to its Defender Program. While many districts have the three distinct defender levels and keep pepper spray or any other weapon in a locked safe, Beaty said staff at Bonham keep ammunition and firearms completely separate.


"The weapon itself will never be in the safe," Beaty said. " … We take the precaution that while we carry a concealed weapon they are never loaded. … There have been cases where, not here but in other places, an individual would go to the men’s room or the ladies’ room and their weapon would fall on the floor. Well if somebody gets it, they still can’t do anything with it because there’s no ammunition in it. We keep the weapon and the ammunition separate so that way there’s no accidental discharge, there’s none of that stuff. We’ve mitigated all that."


He said the firearms staff carry are all semi-automatic, so in case of an emergency, it would only take about four second to put a clip in and charge the weapon to have it ready to fire.


"But the great news is while we’ve done drills on a regular basis, we’ve not had any issues with intruders," Beaty said. "I kind of think the signs we put on the door make it very clear that we are armed and if you wish to do the staff or students harm we’re going to take it badly."


Ector, S&S and Collinsville also said there has been nothing to necessitate using the Defender Program, but superintendents said it helps to have that extra sense of security.


"We’re just in the same situation as everybody else," S&S Superintendent Roger Reed said. "We want to be proactive, we hope that nothing like that ever comes knocking on our door. But if it does, we do want to make sure that we are prepared to protect the lives of our students and faculty members."


Ector Superintendent Gary Bohannon agreed.


"I’m glad we have the program and I hope we don’t ever have to use it," he said.