The Sherman Independent School District’s board of trustees held a hearing Monday night to gather public comments on a proposed security policy which would permit district staff members with previous law enforcement experience to carry firearms on campus.
The public hearing was conducted during the group’s regular monthly meeting at the Sherman ISD administration building. The board heard from roughly a dozen parents, educators and Sherman residents, who were given two minutes each to share their thoughts on the state-named “Guardian Plan.”
“The purpose of the Guardian Plan — in how it’s designed and why it’s available to school districts — is to give school district employees the ability to respond very quickly in the case of an active-shooter situation where law enforcement has not arrived on the campus,” Sherman ISD Superintendent David Hicks said. “And as we know from the tragedies that have occurred, time is of the essence and the faster a response can be made, the better the outcome of the situation.”
Under a modified version of the plan, the district would allow staff members who previously earned a Texas peace officer certification and were honorably discharged from service to carry a concealed firearm while on campus. Hicks said the program would be voluntary in nature and would require participants to undergo a psychological evaluation, initial and annual informational training, as well as range and active-shooter simulation firearms training.
“Participation would be confidential,” Hicks said. “Firearms would be concealed and the ammunition would be kept separate from the weapon. We are proposing that for consideration, because we feel as though that is a safer, more risk-addressing proposal.”
According to the Texas Education Agency, public school districts within the state can take a number of other approaches to campus security. Districts can reach an agreement with outside government agencies, such as a local police department, to appoint specific, part-time or full-time school resource officers. They may also assemble their own district police department or contract with a private security team, though all members must be certified peace officers.
Officers of the Sherman Police Department currently provide security each day at three of the district’s schools — Dillingham Intermediate School, Piner Middle School and Sherman High School. Individual officers are not permanently assigned to the campuses, but can request to work at the schools or an additional shift or during their respective days off. Funding for the security services is paid for by the district at a cost of roughly $180,000 a year and is distributed directly to the officers.
Sherman ISD Director of Communications Emily Parks previously said there are at least three district staff members who are eligible for the Guardian Plan program. It was unclear whether the district’s eligible employees had been asked about taking part in the program. Hicks said the program would cost between $500 and $1,500 annually per participant — figures which included training, materials and equipment.
Following Hicks’ overview of the proposed program, trustees heard from both supporters and opponents of the Guardian Plan.
Brian Ferguson, who currently teaches at Sherman High School, said he spent 20 years as a patrol and SWAT officer before becoming an educator and coach. Ferguson said he was in favor of enacting the Guardian Plan, but that the need for campus security would persist and require evolving policies and solutions.
“We all prefer to have police officers on our campuses, however that is not financially possible,” Ferguson said. “We have a unique situation in Sherman where we have former and retired law enforcement working for the ISD. I think we should utilize all resources to keep our students safe.”
Critics of the plan asked numerous questions related to district liability in the event of a shooting, alternative security measures, the scope of training and at what type of events participating employees would be allowed to carry firearms.
Sherman physician Grant Craig spoke out against the adoption of the Guardian Plan. He said that he had seen firearms do far more harm than he had good in his 15 years as an emergency room doctor and asked why teachers should be charged with the responsibility of carrying a gun.
“The solution is never to arm more people,” Craig said. “For God’s sake, our teachers need to be teaching, not policing.”
The board took no action following the hearing. Board President Tim Millerick previously said that the trustees will await additional research by the district before deciding whether to adopt the policy. Millerick said if the policy is approved by the board over the summer, it would likely be enacted in time for the start of the 2018-2019 academic year.