A Texas superintendent resigned this week after parents learned a 3rd grade student had found his gun unattended in an elementary school restroom in January.
The incident comes after some lawmakers have pressed for arming more educators and administrators in schools in response to school safety concerns. It serves as a stark reminder that the presence of guns in schools can carry risks, especially when they are mishandled.
Robby Stuteville, the superintendent of the Rising Star Independent school district, told local news station KTAB that he and the school’s principal open carry firearms on campus.
In January, the 3rd grade boy found the gun that Stuteville had left in a restroom stall and immediately reported it to a teacher without touching the weapon, the superintendent said in a Feb. 16 interview with the station. The weapon had been unattended for about 15 minutes, he said.
“There was never a danger other than the obvious,” Stuteville told KTAB, adding that he was proud of how the student handled the incident.
Proposals to arm educators gained notable traction in Texas after a May 24 shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde left 19 children and two adults dead. That shooting was likely more deadly because of a delayed and faulty law-enforcement response, state officials found.
The Rising Star district’s website prominently displays a warning on its front page: “Be advised that Rising Star ISD will take any means necessary to protect our students and staff.”
The district’s school board is scheduled to meet Thursday to consider Stuteville’s resignation, which came after parents told school board members at a Feb. 16 hearing they were upset they hadn’t been notified of the incident when it happened. A father who recently moved his family from Uvalde to Rising Star schools alleged that a teacher asked his son to go “see if it’s a real gun” after his classmate reported the weapon.
Texas has seen rounds of debates over arming educators
Texas allows school districts to authorize staff members to carry firearms, giving local officials some discretion over policies that cover such issues as training and storage.
“We have to harden these targets so that no one can get in ever except through one entrance,” Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a Republican, said on Fox News after the Uvalde shooting. “Maybe that would help. Maybe that would stop someone.”
At least 28 states, including Texas, allow armed staff in schools under various regulations that cover factors like required training, eligibility, and gun storage. Florida lawmakers passed a law after the 2018 shooting at a Parkland high school that requires every school to have an armed adult on campus—which could be a police officer or a trained non-teaching staff member designated as a “guardian.”
The RAND Corporation, which analyzes the effects of various gun policies, has found no conclusive research on the effects of armed school staff on a range of outcomes, including risk of unintentional injuries and deaths.
Lawmakers who support arming educators said having guns onsite can serve as a deterrent to would-be attackers and help rural districts, where law enforcement may have longer response times.
Opponents of such policies note that school shooters have attacked campuses with visible police presence. And even highly trained officers from multiple agencies failed to stop the Uvalde shooter during the hour-plus incident.
Some school safety experts have also warned that armed educators could confuse law enforcement in emergency situations, pose a risk to students if they don’t properly handle weapons, and distract from more urgent safety needs, like proper lockdown procedures.
“I strongly oppose arming school staff. Period,” said Kenneth Trump, a school safety consultant based in Ohio. “I’ve always held that it’s a high-risk, high-liability proposition.”
Opponents warn of mishandled guns in schools
The Giffords Law Center, an organization that promotes new legal restrictions on purchasing and carrying firearms, found over 100 publicly reportedincidents of mishandled guns in schoolsover the last five years.
“Keeping kids safe means keeping guns off K-12 campuses,” said the organization’s database, which was last updated in July.
The data collection includes reports of guns left accessible to students, discharged unintentionally, mishandled during disciplinary incidents, and used in “times of stress or personal conflict.”
Those incidents include an Illinois off-duty police officer who left his gun in a restroom while working as a school security guard; a Georgia student who found a gun in a purse a driver had left unattended on his school bus; and a loaded gun that fell out of a substitute teacher’s waistband when they did a cartwheel for students at a Florida elementary school.
Whether or not armed staff are responsible with weapons, it’s important that districts with such programs don’t get distracted from other important safety priorities, like ensuring their emergency-response plans are effective, Trump said.
And the incident offers a teachable moment for all district leaders, whether or not their staff are armed, he said.
“You can handle a [safety] incident perfectly, but if you mess up on the communication, it costs you your credibility with your school community,” Trump said. “Parents want genuine, authentic, and transparent leadership and communication.”