At the entrance to the school in Utopia, Texas, a sign warns: “Warning! This establishment is protected by armed personnel.” The measure has been aimed since 2018 to prevent a tragedy like that of Uvalde, not far away, in which 19 children and two teachers were murdered by a high school student on Tuesday.
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Utopia is a quiet hamlet of some 200 souls, lost among hills and fields as far as the eye can see. A main road with a dozen shops, a few alleys and a little more.
Residents are still trying to gauge the tragedy that struck Robb primary school in Uvalde three days earlier, where a teenager, just 18, committed a massacre with a semi-automatic assault rifle.
“There is no way to completely prevent these things,” said Michael Derry, manager of the Utopia School District since 2020.
“But I think it’s a huge deterrent to know that there are people here (at school) who are armed and ready to do anything to protect our children.”
This measure, implemented in dozens of Texas schools since its statewide adoption in 2013, is making headlines again in the United States, where the best way to stop school shootings is once again being debated.
Teachers wishing to carry a gun at Utopia must obtain a permit and apply to the school’s board of trustees, which decides after consulting with the teacher’s background, says Michael Derry.
For him, this provision is also a way of compensating for the lack of police officers around this town in northeastern Uvalde County.
“We are very isolated. And in the south of the province, where people cross the border (with Mexico), the sheriff’s departments are very busy. So it takes at least 25 to 30 minutes for the police to arrive, and it’s too late,” he says.
In a room filled with shelves full of trophies won by the teams of this school, which welcomes students from kindergarten to high school, Bryson Dalrymple, in his fifties, shuts up when he talks about the murder of Uvalde, where he grew up.
“It’s disturbing and it scares me for the kids,” said the science teacher who is also responsible for the establishment’s security.
According to him, in the event of an attack, the weapons carried by the teachers would “eliminate the problem before it gets worse”.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton rightly argued on Fox News on Tuesday that more schools should arm their employees.
“We can’t stop bad people from doing bad things,” he said, while arming teachers “to react quickly” to an attack was “the best response.”
But according to a major teachers’ union, the National Education Association (NEA), “bringing more guns into schools makes them more dangerous and doesn’t protect our students and educators from gun violence.”
“Teachers should teach, not act as guards,” NEA chairman Becky Pringle said in a statement.
At Utopia, Sugar Bennett initially objected to the decision of the school, where her son Jason will be educated.
But this 46-year-old mother then changed her mind after repeated shootings across the country. The measure makes her feel ‘safer’, she says.
His son also sees with a good eye that some of his teachers are equipped with a weapon, especially since the Uvalde massacre.
“They have enough experience with weapons to defend us if necessary.”
Science teacher Bryson Dalrymple promises: “The children here are like my own children. If something like that happened, I would defend them to my last breath.”