For Board President Charles Randklev, it came down to timing.
“The average time it takes for police to arrive on campus when there’s an active shooter is between two and a half to three and a half minutes. What can we do to help protect our students and staff during that time?” he said. “The guardian program is meant to help students and staff from an active shooter prior to law enforcement's arrival.”
Trustee Micah Young echoed Randklev’s point about addressing those critical first few minutes before law enforcement arrives on scene.
“At Sandy Hook, we lost a child every two seconds. At some point we have to ask ourselves, 'At what point do we put the opportunity in our favor and stop the violence? How long are we willing to wait?'” Young said.
The Texas School Guardian Program was developed in 2009 as an effort to have an armed defensive approach on school campuses, especially in rural areas where police response may be slower, according to a presentation shown in the board’s Nov. 3 workshop. Passed in the 2013 Texas legislative session, the Guardian Plan gives a school board further discretion in authorizing designated persons to carry a firearm on district campuses, according to previous Community Impact reporting.
The board sent out a survey before Monday’s meeting to gauge public opinion on the topic. Out of 4,999 staff and 35,000 community members surveyed, 24% and 9% responded, respectively. Concern about the low response rate combined with the fact that 1,420 staff could have voted twice as both staff and community members made the survey seem inconclusive to Randklev.
Trustee Ruthie Keys pointed out that the survey results gave the board clear indications about staff and community sentiment against the guardian program.
“When you have 848 [responses] who say no and 60 that say yes, I think that speaks loudly," Keyes said.
According to Randklev, 40% of school districts in Texas use the guardian program, and the board has spent much of 2022 deliberating the issue of school safety.
“Over the past six months, we have explored ways to further enhance the safety of our facilities by focusing on three options: adding additional school resource officers, contracting with third-party security firms or adopting the state-certified guardian program with a high degree of oversight in place,” Superintendent Rick Westfall said.
Police departments from Fort Worth and Keller provide 16 school resource officers, or SROs, that cover the district’s middle and high schools at a cost of $1.7 million annually. Adding additional SROs or private security contractors would cost an additional $1 million or $800,000 a year, respectively, according to Westfall.
According to School Safety Certification, which provides state-compliant training for armed teachers and employees, the guardian program requires 16 hours of training, is customizable with a district’s established policies and rules, and is designed for one purpose—protecting students from an active shooter prior to law enforcement arrival.
“At Sandy Hook, we lost 28 total,” Young said. “In a scenario where you have a perpetrator coming into a building, they walk past the cameras; they go through an open door, and they get into the building. All of the technology that we have is great, and it can help reduce [police] response time, but it will never drive it to zero. Our guardian plan has significant training in it. How do you not give somebody the opportunity to protect your kids in the heat of a moment when all you would like to do is pick them up and run?”