By CHERIL VERNON
The Westwood Independent School District’s Board of Trustees approved the first reading to adopt the “Guardian Plan” for Policy CKC (Local) Emergency Operations during Monday’s school board meeting, which would allow for board-designated employees with concealed handgun licenses to be authorized to carry a concealed handgun on school property.
To address school safety issues raised from the recent school shooting in Connecticut and the possibility of implementing the related “Guardian Plan,” WISD will host a public hearing at 7 p.m. Monday, Jan. 28 at Westwood Elementary School campus, located at 2305 Salt Works Rd.
A second reading of the “Guardian Plan” agenda item would have to be approved at the February WISD board of trustees meeting before the change would occur.
WISD Superintendent Dr. Ed Lyman said he discussed the idea of implementing the “Guardian Plan” recently with Palestine Police Chief Robert Herbert and school administration officials.
The process of having two readings of the agenda item with a public hearing in between the school board meetings was designed to slow down the process so decisions could be made properly, Lyman said.
“The public ought to know what we are thinking about,” WISD school board member Craig Nivens said about importance of the upcoming public hearing during the meeting.
During the open forum session of the school board meeting Monday, two local citizens, James Smith and Donald Anderson, cautioned the school board members from approving the “Guardian Plan” without careful consideration.
Smith encouraged the district to consider hiring a campus police officer instead of implementing the plan, questioning whether a person who has no law enforcement background or minimum training could be put in the position of carrying a concealed weapon on campus and be trusted to make the right decisions under pressure. He also suggested if the plan passed, for officials to consider a taser as the weapon of choice instead of a handgun and consider the possible liability to the school district.
Anderson suggested opening the line of communication up more with students who may be more willing to speak off-the-record if given a “safe” setting to do so before an incident were to take place. He also questioned whether the person potentially carrying a concealed handgun could be trusted to hit their intended target in an emergency situation.
During discussion of the “Guardian Plan,” Lyman addressed some of these issues.
“They would have to be properly licensed and properly trained to carry firearms. There would be limitations and training,” Lyman said, noting the school board would decide ultimately “who, when and how” the person could carry the concealed weapon on campus.
If approved eventually, exact details of the “Guardian Plan” wouldn’t be released to the public to keep information confidential so that perpetrators wouldn’t have access to plans that would endanger the lives of the students and staff.
“Who would have thought those 20 kids and six teachers would lose their lives? Those teachers had nothing to defend themselves against the shooter except their bare hands,” Lyman said.
Lyman encouraged community members to attend the public hearing on Jan. 28 to discuss the issues related to school safety.
“Please come to the meeting and bring your ideas for the security of our school,” Lyman said.
School board members encouraged Lyman to invite the police chief and Anderson County Sheriff Greg Taylor to attend the public hearing for their views as well.