STEPHEN HEMELT — Today’s campus safety conversations increasingly include talk of armed teachers

Published 12:24 am Saturday, August 20, 2022

When speaking with Orange Newsmedia this week about student safety, Orangefield Independent School District Superintendent Shaun McAlpin was careful with his words and focused in his communication.

It comes with the responsibility that accompanies campus protection.

We live in a world where school shootings are a tragic but undeniable aspect of education.

With no anticipation of that going away anytime soon, school districts across Southeast Texas are examining new ways to add security for students and staff workers.

Over in Jefferson County, the Nederland Police Department chief has endorsed efforts to pursue a school marshal or school guardian program that would train and arm certain school employees to add another layer of security to campuses.

Closer to home here, out of more than 1,200 school districts in Texas, Orangefield Independent School District is one of 84 that uses school marshals.

The school board approved the measure in 2018, thus allowing specially trained people the authority to carry a weapon to assist in an active shooter circumstance.

“It’s a very private program,” McAlpin said this week.

He also went on to say, “there is no school district law enforcement. Our county does an amazing job when we need them,” adding deputies check on the campuses and patrol nearby on a regular basis.

We all wish such conversations and actions weren’t needed, but schoolhouses and students have become targets to criminally motivated or those suffering from mental illness.

To avoid more bloodshed, these types of conversations are needed by the those who take on the responsibility of educating and protecting our youth.

When listening to the Nederland police this chief this week, his description of the situation stuck with me.

Gary Porter said there are many teachers and employees inside the school district who are safety conscious and able to absorb the responsibilities and lessons needed in armed security.

“I have all the faith in that,” he told school board members. “I personally know there are many employees inside our school district that if somebody tried to come in and harm one of our employees, they will do what they have to do, including giving their lives. The thing is, we want to make sure they have the chance to protect themselves and not just give their lives on a suicide mission if, God forbid, one of these maniacs gets inside one of our schools.”

Unfortunately, it has come to this today.

I have a sixth grade daughter and ninth grade son. Like all parents, I worry about their preparation for class, hope they get along with classmates and jump to attention anytime I hear of concern at their campuses.

I remember last year when a report of a pellet gun found in a student’s backpack momentarily locked me in fear.

In Nederland, school board president Micah Mosley told me district leaders began discussing the security program’s possibilities with police over the summer, focusing on potential pros and cons.

District leaders needed to have an understanding, from a strategic standpoint, what armed school staff could potentially look like and if it was even worth diving into further.

“I think what you heard (this week) was Chief Porter’s 100 percent buy-in of pushing this type of program,” Mosley said. “When something like that comes from the chief of police of your city, it is a powerful person to endorse a program.

“Like he touched on, they have an incredible response time already. They are integrated with our schools really well. They are already checking doors and walking through the halls on a continuous basis while on shift. They scope out the schools at night and run drills with different departments across the state.”

Hearing McAlpin and Mosley talk this week about existing strong relationships with law enforcement was reassuring.

A school shooter used to seem unthinkable. Now, failing to prepare for such a situation is even more unconscionable.

Stephen Hemelt is the publisher at Orange Newsmedia, which produces the Orange Leader and orangeleader.com. He can be reached at stephen.hemelt@orangeleader.com.