In a remote part of Northwest Texas, where the oil industry and the cotton crop are usually the topics for discussion, and along a lonely stretch of rail road between Amarillo and Wichita Falls, the tiny Harrold Independent School District is changing the conversation. With enrollment of only 103 students the high school, junior high and elementary are practically under the same roof. Despite its size the district has a lot in common with others.
The trophy case is packed with awards. The sound of bouncing balls and barking coaches spills into a main hallway which can quickly fill with students scurrying to their next class. But it's not the lesson plan that's attracting international attention to this part of Texas. Several of the 25 teachers and support staff at Harrold ISD may be wearing guns.
"And it's really kind of the norm, it's kind of the way we go about our everyday life," said Principal Craig Templeton.
Officials with the School District refuse to say how many employees carry a gun while on campus. Templeton is one of the few who knows who is and who isn't packing.
"If that policy has to be put into play I know where we will have to be and what to cover," said Templeton.
The decision to create a school employee security team, according to Superintendent David Thweatt, was out of necessity.
"We were looking at some kind of policy involving some kind of ability to be our own first responders since we're about 30 minutes from law enforcement," said Superintendent Thweatt.
The district already had in place security cameras but all the monitoring and electronic door locks did not seem to be enough especially after the Amish school massacre in 2006, which was followed by the shooting rampage at Virginia Tech. The concern about the what if, became the driving force behind drafting the Guardian Plan.
"So of the arguments I've heard, that now teachers are going to have guns are going to shoot the kids, that's a ludicrous asinine argument," said Thweatt.
To take part in the Guardian Plan a Concealed Handgun License is required along with additional active shooter training and School Board approval. Those selected, known as Guardians, are not allowed to keep weapons in a purse or locked in a desk. The weapon must also remain out of sight and to prevent the risk of ricochet only bullets designed to break apart on impact can be used. Not everyone on staff can sign up.
"The key is finding people with good judgment, training is important, but mainly a person who is able to be level headed and able in a crisis to keep a level head," said the Superintendent.
Students do not know who is part of the Guardian program. Those who spoke to FOX7 admit at first not knowing was a little creepy.
"Really, we kind ‘a wondered who it was at first but after a while it started fading away, we really didn't talk about it," said 11th grader Matt Templeton.
Matt and his sister, Madison, like many of the kids in the area have been around guns, used for hunting, most of their lives. Having them in school is not a problem.
"In the long run I think this is safer," said Madison.
Harrison Thweatt, who is also a member of the Junior class, offered this perspective on arming teachers and school employees.
"We trust these people to further our education for the rest of our lives so we're kind ‘a already putting our life in their hands already, so just putting our lives in their hands for another reason doesn't really change anything," he said.
Adoption of the policy in 2007 generated media attention and some ridicule, but now after the attack at Sandy Hook Elementary parents like CaRae Reinisch say their School Board made the right decision.
"It's the lesser of two evils. I think that it's sad that it comes to this but I think they're doing a great job in protecting our students," said Reinisch.
The phone in the Superintendent's office is once again ringing with calls from reporters as well as inquiries from other school administrators.
"This is spreading, I've lost count of the number of people I've talked to in Texas, and I've lost count of the number of people I've talked to across the nation," Thweatt said.
Thweat declined to identify who and how many have asked for a copy of the Guardian Plan.
Other school districts can already walk through the same door without getting any legislative approval. But Lt. Governor David Dewhurst wants to make an adjustment that could set up a uniformed statewide standard.
"Deterrence is a big factor," Dewhurst told FOX 7 during an interview in early January.
After that initial statement, after a news conference January 16, the Lt. Governor restated his focus, with an emphasis toward rural school districts.
"The state should be a partner in providing resources to ... pay for that training," said Dewhurst.
Superintendent Thweatt believes the Guardian Plan can work in any district regardless of size. For him it's all about making a point blank statement.
"If somebody is going to hurt our kids, they need to be hurt back, big time," said Thweatt.
There have been situations where guardians have discharged their gun since the policy was adopted. But the intruders in those cases involved rattlesnakes or wild pigs that made the mistake of wandering onto the school property.
In response to a request for comment about this issue, the Texas Association of School Boards issued the following statement:
"Under the authority of the federal Gun-Free Schools Act and the Texas Penal Code, school districts can grant written permission for anyone, including certain employees, to carry firearms on campus. 18 U.S.C. § 922(2)(B)(v); Tex. Penal Code § 46.03(a)(1). In most cases, school districts limit employee authorization to commissioned peace officers. In some districts, however, authorization has been granted to other school officials or even classroom teachers. While state and federal law gives school districts broad discretion to authorize the possession of firearms and other weapons on school premises, granting such authority brings a host of practical concerns, including safety, liability, and insurance. School districts considering expanding the authority of employees to bring weapons on campus should discuss the decision with their school attorney and insurance provider."
Clay Robison, the spokesperson for the Texas State Teachers Association also sent a statement.
"TSTA would rather the state spend the money to restore the $5.4 billion (more than $500 per child) cut from public school budgets two years ago. Lt. Gov. Dewhurst's proposal would add more guns to the public schools, and we need fewer guns in the schools. Teachers signed on to teach, not to be armed security guards. We don't object if the state wants to pay for additional, professional security officers, but not to arm teachers. The answer is reducing the number of guns, particularly assault rifles, too readily available to people who have no use having them."