Texas Superintendent Resigns After Student Finds His Gun In School Bathroom

The superintendent of a small school district in West Central Texas resigned this week after parents learned that his gun was found in a bathroom stall by a third grade student, an incident that comes as Texas lawmakers and top officials discuss school safety in the aftermath of the Uvalde shooting and prioritize measures like arming more educators.

Monty Jones, the principal of Rising Star Elementary School, told NBC News that he and former Rising Star Independent School District Superintendent Robby Stuteville carried weapons on campus in response to school shootings. Jones and Stuteville did not respond to interview requests.

“For our kids’ protection, we need someone who is more responsible with a gun,” Elizabeth Lee, who has two grandchildren in the district, told KTXS, a local news outlet.

Parents were upset about how the district, about 124 miles southwest of Fort Worth, handled the incident. After the third grader found the gun, a teacher sent another student to confirm it was real. And district leaders didn’t notify the community until last week.

“I was shocked because it happened early in January and we’re just now finding out about it,” Lee said. “Mr. Stuteville is a good man. But that was irresponsible.”

The Rising Star school board will meet Thursday night to discuss Stuteville’s resignation and potentially name an acting superintendent.

It is unclear whether Stuteville and Jones were part of the state’s school marshal program, which allows educators to carry weapons inside schools after 80 hours of training, or its “guardian plan,” which lets local school boards designate district employees who can carry firearms and determine what kind of firearm training they must get. The state keeps the names of the marshals and the districts in the program confidential.

[Texas Legislature gears up to tackle long-standing and fresh issues in public education. Here’s what you need to know.]

Both the Texas House and Senate have proposed setting aside $600 million from the state budget to “harden” schools, or implement measures aimed at increasing security in school buildings. Lawmakers have not yet said how they’d like to use that money, but a Senate committee has recommended expanding the state’s mental health telemedicine system to all school districts and hiring more mental health professionals.

But it’s unlikely that the attention on school safety will lead to stricter gun laws — as some Uvalde parents have been calling for — with the Republican-led Legislature working in the opposite direction in the aftermath of several mass shootings in the last few years.

“Anything that is considered gun control is dead on arrival,” said Mark Jones, a political science professor at Rice University. “In terms of school safety, the focus is going to be almost exclusively on hardening the schools in terms of more money for installing modern security.”

After the Uvalde shooting, Gov. Greg Abbott told the Texas Education Agency he wanted to arm more school employees under the school marshal program. The TEA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Many school staff members don’t want to be armed. As of Wednesday, only 71 school districts out of 1,200 in the state were participating in the school marshal program. Last year, a Texas American Federation of Teachers poll of about 5,100 K-12 school employees, higher-ed employees, parents and community leaders found that most of them don’t support arming teachers and prefer limiting gun access.

“Trying to arm teachers is risky and counterproductive,” said Zeph Capo, president of the national AFT, a teachers union. “Teachers can’t be expected to become highly trained law enforcement officers and use guns in a crisis without endangering students or themselves.”

In 2019, public health professors Jagdish Khubchandani at New Mexico State University and James Price at the University of Toledo took a look at school security practices and their effectiveness. They found no evidence that more armed teachers reduced gun violence in schools.

One issue with arming school personnel is that it’s hard to monitor whether proper protocols are being followed, which could lead to situations similar to the one at Rising Star ISD, said Odis Johnson, the executive director of the Center for Safe and Healthy Schools at John Hopkins University.

“I can’t say there’s a lot of evidence that tells us how effective [keeping guns in school] has been in terms of ensuring the safety of the kids who could have access to these firearms,” he said. “People are so fearful of school shootings that they make access to these guns more likely for kids, and ultimately that’s not going to keep kids safe.”

Disclosure: Rice University and Texas AFT have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2023/02/23/texas-superintendent-gun-school-safety/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

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