US school triggers outrage by letting teachers carry guns

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ACROSS the globe teachers are struggling to keep dangerous weapons out of classrooms. But now a tiny Texas district has sparked outrage by allowing teachers to bring handguns to school.

The small community of Harrold will permit staff to carry concealed firearms, claiming it will help to protect teachers and pupils.

While the move has been welcomed by America's gun lobby it has been widely condemned by teaching groups and parents.

The 110-student campus will be the first in the world to allow teachers to carry guns while working.

David Thweatt, Harrold's superintendent, said the school board unanimously passed the policy in a bid to safeguard pupils in the event of an armed intruder entering classrooms.

He claimed that neither the school trustees nor any parents had raised any objections.

Thweatt denied the move was ill considered and insisted the guns-in-classrooms policy was "cautious and wise".

He said: "The naysayers think a shooting won't happen here. But if something were to happen I'd much rather be calling a parent to tell them that their child is okay because we were able to protect them."

In a bizarrely argued defence of the policy, Thweatt added: "When the federal government started making schools gun-free zones, that's when all of these shootings started.

"Why would you put it out there that a group of people can't defend themselves?"

The officer stressed that teachers would have to take part in crisis management training before they were allowed to bring a gun to school.

He believes the position of the lone campus, a 30-minute drive from the sheriff's office and 300 metres from a busy highway near the Oklahoma border, made it vulnerable.

Texas' penal code prohibits firearms at schools "unless pursuant to the written regulations or written authorisation of the institution".

The rural school already has a range of security measures in place including CCTV cameras and electric door locks.

School board member Sarah Winkler, vice-president of the Texas Association of School Board, said she was horrified and claimed she was unaware that school trustees could overturn the law.

"This is just appalling," she said. "One accident and I don't know how the school board would live with themselves. Individual school boards should not the type of power to be able to do this."

Gayle Fallom, president of the Houston Federation of Teachers, was equally outraged, and said: "This is a disaster waiting to happen. It is right up there with the worst ideas in the history of modern education."

Fallon said that if the policy was adopted elsewhere it could lead to students stealing their teachers' firearms.

"We could end up arming half the gangs in Houston," she said. "This is the type of decision that makes Texas a laughing stock both nationally and internationally."

Don Ryan, president of the neighbouring Cypress-Fairbanks school board, described the policy as "absurd", and said: "It is almost like something out of a movie."

Bryan Clements, executive director for security for the Galena Park school district of the state, felt it would inevitably endanger rather than protect youngsters.

"It is foolish to introduce more weapons into the school environment," he said. "In the event of a crisis there is no manageable way to integrate armed staff into the crisis response plan."

In recent years the US has seen a number of fatal shootings on school campuses, most notoriously at Columbine High School, Colorado, where two pupils killed 12 pupils and a teacher and wounded dozens of others.

Youngsters at the Texan school will still face expulsion if they bring a gun to school, even if they claim it is for their own protection.

But the ferociously right-wing Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, which boasts 650,000 members, was thrilled by the announcement.

Chairman Alan Gottlieb said: "Gun control extremists may despise it, but this is a common-sense approach to the potential of school violence."

In Britain, handguns were banned after the Dunblane massacre in 1996 where Thomas Hamilton killed 16 children, a teacher and himself with legally-owned weapons.

A spokeswoman for Mothers Against Violence, a British anti-guns campaign group, described the policy as "appalling", and added: "Thankfully in this country we see guns as a dangerous problem and not as a solution."

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