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Paradise ISD votes to arm staff

By Reece Waddell | Published Saturday, September 1, 2018
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Paradise ISD trustees unanimously approved a plan that will allow certain employees to carry guns on school campuses.

Trustees met in closed session for 48 minutes Monday before briefly reconvening. After emerging from behind closed doors, trustees took action on three items to put plans in place.

Paradise Superintendent Paul Uttley said trustees have talked about arming staff since he arrived in March.

“There are some safety concerns with what has happened with recent events,” Uttley said. “[Trustees] have heard from constituents asking if we were going to start a program. We took a very slow and methodical approach. It’s not something we take lightly. It’s something we feel is out of necessity.

“If you had asked me 25 years ago if I would be talking about guns in the school district, I would have said ‘No way.’ Society has changed.”

Trustees adopted a local policy authorizing certain employees or trustees to possess a firearm.

The policy cites “Paradise ISD being in a somewhat isolated area, and that response from emergency first responders, including law enforcement, may be delayed in the event of an invasion by an armed intruder, hostage situation, action of a student who is armed or other similar circumstances.”

Trustees then adopted the Defender Program, which outlines how a staff member can get approved to carry a firearm. Uttley said participation in the program is completely voluntary.

According to the Defender Program document posted on Paradise ISD’s website, only full-time employees who possess a concealed handgun license are eligible to apply for written authorization to carry on campus. Applicants cannot have been convicted of an offense above a Class B misdemeanor within the last 10 years. Applicants also cannot have been convicted of any family violence crime.

If the applicant meets the criteria, the application is sent to Uttley, who decides whether or not to send it to trustees for deliberation.

“Our folks are going to be vetted,” Uttley said. “Just because someone wants to do it, doesn’t mean they’re going to get to.”

Trustees also unanimously approved to allow certain district employees to carry firearms in accordance with the policy and the Defender Program.

Uttley reiterated each employee who carries a firearm will receive extensive training in crisis intervention and management of hostage situations. He said staff from any of the district’s four campuses are eligible.

“There will be a required monthly and yearly training,” Uttley said. “You have to almost train like how an airline pilot trains for emergencies. You hope you never need it, but if you do, you’re prepared.”

Uttley said there would be a “financial impact” of training for employees, but declined to give a specific figure. He said cost of training would ultimately depend on how many staff members were in the Defender Program. He added he has not received any negative feedback on the program to date.

Uttley also said some employees have already started receiving training. He declined to give a specific date the plan would officially be implemented, but said it would be some time in September.

Paradise is the third district in Wise County to arm staff. Alvord ISD voted to arm teachers in April, while Chico ISD approved a plan to arm its staff in June.

“This is one aspect of our overall safety program,” Uttley said. “It can’t be the entire safety program. I think we all agree we wish we didn’t have to do a policy like this, but it’s important because of the recent events that have happened. We have to weigh the options of having a policy versus not having a policy. We take the safety and security of our students very seriously.”

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