Parents tout guardian program at Cleburne ISD meeting

·6 min read

Jun. 23—Three spoke and about 18 showed up in support of instituting a guardian program during Monday's meeting of the Cleburne ISD board of trustees.

"We can no longer look at this situation as what if," Cleburne High School Cafeteria Manager Crystal Hankins said. "We have to begin to look at it as when. What are we and our CISD staff going to do to protect our fellow employees as well as our students?

Also speaking during the meeting's public comment section was Aaron Reaves, who introduced himself as a concerned father and Cleburne resident.

Reaves began pushing for the program in wake of the May 24 Uvalde school shooting that left 21 dead. Reaves went on to establish a Facebook page, Cleburne Residents Support Protecting Our Children — Pro Guardian Program, and an online petition, which has so far garnered more than 300 signatures.

Several Johnson County school districts including Keene, Rio Vista and Godley already have the program as do Arlington ISD, Argyle ISD, White Settlement ISD and other districts in North Texas.

Statewide, about 36 percent of Texas school districts have initiated the program with more expected to come on board, Reaves said.

The guardian program, which is voluntary, is open to qualified teachers and staff members of a district. Those chosen undergo rigorous vetting, training and continued training updates, Reaves said.

"Ultimately, volunteer guardians would go through a regiment for certification as well as any additional training requirements designed by our district that would essentially vet and train volunteer guardians," Reaves said. "If criteria is met, it would allow a guardian the ability to conceal carry a firearm with complete anonymity to the public while performing other CISD work duties."

Reaves stressed that guardian programs work as an addition, not replacement, to school resource officers and existing campus safety protocols.

Some, Reaves told the school board, may question why guardian volunteers need to be armed.

"The answer is very simple," Reaves said. "In the event there's an active shooter within our school the guardians are our last line of defense. Every school shooting for almost two decades now has had some part of [their safety protocol] process fail.

"With that in mind, every second counts. If this were to happen and a guardian plan not implemented, then we leave our students and staff helpless for a minimum of three to five minutes before the arrival of first responders. Even longer as seen in Uvalde."

What he never hopes to see, Reaves added, is CISD staff and/or students cornered by a shooter, reduced to passive victims and left with no option save throwing books and backpacks to defend themselves.

Reaves distributed a packet to board members of facts and figures highlighting the attributes of the guardian program and contrasting it to, in his opinion, the less effective marshal plan.

Reaves said, from talking to community members in recent weeks, he feels that strong local support exists for the guardian program.

"As for today," Reaves told the board. "Can you promise that all of the [existing] safety measures cannot and will not ever fail? If you cannot, promise today that you will allow guardian volunteers the tools to not be passive victims."

Board members, as per guidelines not to respond to public comments, offered no response to Reaves or Monday's other speakers.

CISD Superintendent Kyle Heath on Wednesday, however, said the speakers' input was appreciated. Heath also broached ongoing safety measure concerns.

"We recently met with our city and county law enforcement officials to discuss and review school safety and security," Heath said. "This was the first in a series of meetings we have scheduled."

Although Heath did not specifically mention the guardian program, he added that combined meetings of the district's District Safety and Security Committee and District Site Base Committee are scheduled to address steps and options necessary to improve campus security. Those committees consists of teachers, administrators, parents, law enforcement officers, community stakeholders and others brought together to offer open dialogue and guidance.

"The evaluation and expansion of safety measures in place, coupled with research and consideration of new initiatives to strengthen school security, has become a standard and ongoing operating procedure within CISD," Heath said.

Bobby Mayes, a teacher at Smith Middle School, addressed the board as well.

"My question this evening is one shared by many teachers and parents and any of us heartbroken over the loss of lives in Uvalde," Mayes said. "As a teacher and a parent I am not satisfied that, if there were a shooter in our school, I might only have the option as a last recourse to throw my body in front of a shooter to protect my students.

"In that case, I've truly done nothing to help because, after my death, the shooter has free rein to continue their assault."

Mayes questioned what if any protections current safety protocols lend to children on the playground, football field or gathered in the gym or cafeteria.

School resource officers while vital are too few in number to cover all campuses at all times, Mayes said.

"As a concealed carry individual with a license I understand and bear the responsibility that if I ever, God forbid, have to pull my weapon and fire it I will face serious legal consequences," Mayes said. "But I would rather face those consequences than bear on my conscious the guilt of knowing that I could've done something to save lives and didn't in the same way the school board in Uvalde have to bear those consequences on their consciouses for the rest of their lives. And likewise you will have to bear that responsibility as a board member if a shooting happens at one of our schools."

Mayes and Reaves described the guardian protocol as a last line of defense should all other safety protocols in place fail.

"Frankly, just having a sign in front of the schools that we have concealed carry teachers may be a strong enough deterrent that we would never face a shooter in our schools."

Hankins praised district efforts so far.

"I look and see that CISD has done remarkable things as far as the safety of our children," Hankins said. "The double-entry doors, key cards and ID badges."

But such measures are only effective if followed, Hankins added.

Hankins displayed pictures of school building doors propped or left open and said it's not unusual to see people in the building sans ID badges.

"I don't know every staff member or even if they're visiting from another campus," Hankins said. "Especially with summer school going on, construction at all levels going on and people with no ID on them. How do I know that person is allowed in here?"

Hankins urged board members to visit with area districts that have instituted the guardian program.

"I consider everyone with CISD my family and I do not want harm to come to any one of them," Hankins said. "This is a thing that needs to be seriously considered and I do hope that you all will consider it greatly."

Reaves, after Monday's meeting, said he felt that board listened and will give the proposal consideration. All the same, he said he and others plan to continue to speak during board meetings, email the district and collect petition signatures including possible plans to distribute a petition among CISD employees. Mayes added that he believes CISD teachers and staff members "overwhelmingly" support the initiative.