An Interview with Dr. David R. Walker
Interview by Gila Hayes
In the February 2020 edition of our Network member’s journal, we introduced readers to Dr. David R. Walker, the superintendent of Christoval Independent School District (ISD) in San Angelo, TX, who told us about his school district’s armed Guardian Plan. If you missed the story of how this program of armed school staff got started and how it works, we suggest you read https://armedcitizensnetwork.org/defending-against-school-shooters then return to this interview for the conclusion of the Christoval Guardian story.
Now, we return to our conversation with Dr. Walker, this month detailing how the Christoval, TX, community has reacted to and participated in school safety planning that includes armed staff.
eJournal: At the end of our chat last month, we had a good discussion on training, teacher preparation, and you mentioned–as did Chuck Taylor–that full-sized service pistols like Glock 17s and high-capacity Smith & Wesson M&Ps were the pistols most commonly used. What do you like for holsters?
Walker: Les Rogers of Custom Concealed Wares (https://customconcealedwares.com/) is our exclusive holster maker and for gun belts, we use Galco (https://www.galcogunleather.com/) and Dillion (https://www.dillonprecision.com/).
eJournal: You mentioned last month that the school district provides the long guns, as well as the security/lock up systems, which makes good sense. What kind of gear did you buy?
Walker: First, I want to stress that it is the Indian and not the arrow. As Chuck Taylor says, “If the operator has his head on straight, he’ll win. It doesn’t matter what kind of weapon he uses because he will use it right. He will use it well.”
With that being said, I still want our folks to have good equipment and gear. It matters because I know that they will use it right and well. Furthermore, I must be able to trust my life with it. We are protecting something sacred and innocent–our children. In addition to the other shortcuts that I do NOT take, I do not take any shortcuts when it comes to equipment, either.
Our rifles/carbines are the CTSS MK 1 from Norman Hanson Firearms LLC (http://normanhansonfirearms.com/). Our shotguns are either Mossberg 500 18.5-inch 12 gauge, or the Mossberg 500 Bantam 20 gauge with adjustable stock panels for smaller statured folks or Remington 870 12 gauge shotguns. Long guns have TLR-1 HL tactical lights from Streamlight.
eJournal: Personally, I’m pretty insistent on having a handheld light, not just a weapon mounted one. Is that on your equipment list?
Walker: For tac flashlights we have the Surefire E2T-MV Tactician model.
eJournal: You also mentioned that specific ammunition was issued and approved, and that there were rifles and shotguns secured in the classrooms for teacher use in an emergency. What ammunition choices have you made for the various guns?
Walker: Ammunition for handgun and rifle/carbines is Dynamic Research Technologies (DRT) Terminal Shock Ammunition (http://drtammo.com) which is a frangible projectile I chose because of our high-density population environment, plus it is a frangible that is designed for defense concerns–some frangible is just for shooting steel on the range. There is a difference.
For our shotguns, what I have found to pattern the best as a whole in our multiple 12 gauge shotguns is Remington Managed Recoil 00 Buckshot with 8 pellets. Sometimes that is labeled LE, sometimes not, but the important point is that it is the 8 pellet shells. I have to make it pattern well in a number of different shotguns. Sometimes that can be a challenge, but these shells have consistently patterned well in all of our 12 gauges. For our 20 gauges, we have Remington Express #3 Buckshot.
eJournal: You talked quite a bit last month about providing security for guns when staff like coaches couldn’t carry on body.
Walker: We use quick access lock boxes from Secure It Defense (https://www.secureittactical.com/) and for the long guns, we have the SecureIt Weapon storage racks cabinets and armory systems. Sean Flynn there has been most helpful.
eJournal: What about medical gear?
Walker: Retired Green Beret Medic and Physician Assistant, Mo Beard of H&H Medical Corp. has been a great asset and trainer for us. We carry a lot of TK-4L (http://buyhandh.com) tourniquets because they are compact and can be used on both small children and adults. Many tourniquets with windlasses cannot constrict small enough on small limbs. Others we carry include the CAT tourniquets from North American Rescue (https://www.narescue.com) and SOF-T from Tactical Medical Solutions (http://www.tacmedsolutions.com/). I’m currently running trials on the TMT tourniquet from Combat Medical Systems and the B.O.A. tourniquet by RCA Medical Products.
We keep on hand a lot of other good medical gear ranging from individual first aid kits, special medical equipment bags, bleed kits, chest seals and more. Some of our vendors include H&H Medical, Tactical Medical Solutions, North American Rescue, Special Operations Equipment and others.
eJournal: Moving to the human factor, now, may I ask, have students, their families, the school board and the community generally been supportive of armed school staff?
Walker: In the past, students have been asked by the news media, “How do you feel, knowing that your teacher may be carrying a gun?” Every time, the response has been that the student feels safer.
Our DECA (Distributive Education Clubs of America https://deca.org) students help teach the Standard Response Protocol™ and Standard Reunification Method™ to students and new employees as a community service project. Earlier this year, two of our DECA students made those protocols the topic of their DECA competition entry. One went on to win the state competition and qualify for international for the next level of competition.
Sometimes when asked what they think about their teacher carrying a gun, students give what I think is a mature response, that you would not want a school shooting to happen, but unfortunately, the world is not a perfect place. They say that since there are evil people in the world who do evil things, it is nice to know that my teacher will be prepared to protect to me, and that they will have more than an eraser in their hands.
Our armed staff carry their guns concealed or secured out of sight, so the students really don’t know which teachers are armed. On October 30, 2018, a person had to be removed from our school premises. In resolving that, an AR-15 was displayed. I don’t know if any students saw that, but I know a few members of the public did. The feedback was that everything was handled in an appropriate manner until law enforcement could respond on scene; they were glad to know that we were able to deal with the problem during the time it took law enforcement to get there.
eJournal: When you’re interacting with the children, how do they react to having armed teachers?
Walker: It varies. There was an incident that was a false alarm and a Guardian with an AR-15 made a dynamic entry into a classroom full of kindergartners. The kindergartners were basically oblivious. After it was over and after all equipment was concealed, we went back to check on everyone to be sure they were all right, and a group of fifth-graders that saw the Guardian enter the building had quite an amusing retelling of the incident. In their version they said that Mr. or Mrs. So-and-so came in with two pistols strapped to each leg, two shotguns, and [lowers voice dramatically] they had grenades!
We laughed and explained to them that what they saw were not grenades or someone weighted down with four firearms; they had seen tourniquets that the Guardian was carrying exposed for quick access. The students asked, “What is a tourniquet?” so we pulled out the tourniquets and the kids got to play with the tourniquets. In addition to all employees including substitutes, we have the kids trained on tourniquet use and other life-saving skills.
The kids thought that was fine, and the kindergarteners were still oblivious to the fact that a firearm was ever in the room. We checked in with everyone after that incident, taking the temperature so to speak, to make sure no one needed counseling. A substitute teacher who is also a parent was teaching music in one of the classrooms we went into that day. When the Guardian went into that classroom after the event to check on everyone, the substitute said, “The students would like to express their appreciation to you and they want to sing you a song.” That was a pretty neat experience. The students were second graders, so they were only about as tall as your waist, and they were hugging the Guardian’s legs singing and saying thank you.
eJournal: That brings a tear to the eye. I’ve wondered what particular issues small children should be burdened with–like whether or not their teacher might use a gun to defend them. How do you decide?
Walker: The information has to be age appropriate, and it works well to start teaching the right attitude and the “why” when they are young. A group of fourth graders witnessed the beginning of the incident on Oct. 30, 2018, in which we had to remove a person from school premises. Actually, those students were the first to see the threat. They had already started moving away and had notified the teachers.
We have a system to let everyone know about a threat that includes some redundancies. We use a certain sequence of whistles to alert staff to get the students in off the playground into the safety of the building. In the October incident, the fourth-graders saw the problem first and initiated the response.
eJournal: We under-estimate children’s abilities! What has been the attitude of parents? Do they support armed school staff?
Walker: In the beginning, there were questions, but not opposition. Of course, there was discussion on Facebook and social media because there were questions that had to be answered. Once those questions were answered everything was A-OK. We understood that it was new territory, that we were entering a new frontier.
eJournal: Do you do advance emergency planning in tandem with first responders?
Walker: Yes, we do emergency planning and drills together.
eJournal: Who is accountable for the students after an incident?
Walker: Quoting John-Michael Keyes, “Cops own the crime, fire department owns the flames, EMS owns the patients, and the schools own the kids.” Under the Standard Reunification Method™ by the I Love U Guys Foundation (https://iloveuguys.org/), which uses the Incident Command Structure System, the district is responsible to reunite students with their parents. If there is a reunification site, a school employee will serve as the incident commander of that site.
eJournal: Who takes the lead on mental health/emotional health issues in the aftermath of a critical incident at school?
Walker: It is a team approach. In our community, the Tom Green Mental Health Division of the Sheriff’s Office would lead this. These deputies have the expertise to direct school personnel and parents to appropriate agencies and counseling centers as needed.
Districtwide, we have a good relationship with law enforcement and the mental health division. We make sure we take care of the whole child, to meet all of the social, emotional, and psychological needs. Large schools may be able to have all of these resources in house. We are smaller, so we don’t and we rely very heavily on working with other agencies like CPS, mental health and the West Texas Counseling Center. Many of these agencies have resources that can help pay, if the family is not able, so that the child or the family receives counseling or wellness checks.
eJournal: Has the local law enforcement community had any reservations about your teachers taking on armed defense responsibilities?
Walker: Our sheriff’s office and the school district have forged a very strong working relationship over the past six years. A while after the adoption of our Guardian Plan, our local sheriff, David Jones, implemented a program of random walk-throughs by deputies.
eJournal: The Guardian program doesn’t seem like a replacement for policing but rather to hold the line until law enforcement can arrive. For some remote districts, you could be looking at holding the line for 20 or 30 minutes.
Walker: Our actual response times are classified, but in my opinion, even if there is a police station across the street or there are police officers on campus, the wait time is still too long. Buildings need to have adequate coverage, and – I want to really stress this point – our faculty and staff know our students, grounds, and buildings the best. We know that active killers will continue killing until they are met with an immediate and dynamic force.
We know that the police can’t be everywhere at once. One very large school district in Texas contacted me. They recognized the shortage of manpower inherent in a school district police force. They were considering adding specialized training for armed civilians. Hiring more officers was not financially feasible. Besides, if police were always present, we would have a police state, and that’s not desirable, either.
eJournal: When you introduced the idea of armed school staff at Christoval, was the school board in favor?
Walker: Oh, yes. It would not have happened without the school board. There are different trustees on the school board now than when the original resolution was passed in January 2013. Since then our Guardian program has continued to be part of the shared vision for our school district. I hope that part of the continued support for the success of our program is because the School Board of Trustees and the community trust us and they feel that we are doing a good job. I think if there was any doubt about that, we would not be as successful. I am very, very thankful for their trust.
eJournal: Christoval shows great courage, I think, in resisting the common urge to keep our hands clean and contract for someone else–in this situation, police–to do our fighting for us and then blame them when it proves impractical for police to be omnipresent.
Walker: Our mission at Christoval ISD is to empower students to be productive and successful citizens, by instilling self-sufficiency and integrity. The many initiatives that we have undertaken have had that mission in mind. Part of our mission is keeping kids safe; we act in loco parentis (https://usedulaw.com/345-in-loco-parentis.html) in terms of law. If we are going to be acting in place of the parent, we have to ask, “What would a parent do if their child is in harm’s way?” The parents would try to protect them.
We cannot always rely on someone else, so it is part of our mission of self-sufficiency to protect the children until help comes. We try to do that with integrity, and that comes into our culture of reporting, not having a police state. We don’t have random pat downs or anything like that, but we are all conducting ourselves in a proper fashion. We have a culture of trust, good relationships, and situational awareness are all key components.
eJournal: Engaging everyone, even students, makes good use of the way students are usually first to see behavior that indicates a threat from within the student body. That seems a very different problem than interdicting threats from the outside. What gets higher priority? Do you worry more about internal or external dangers?
Walker: It is thought that at the elementary school there is a greater chance that a threat will be someone coming in from the outside, but at the high school, there is a greater chance that the fox may already be inside the henhouse, so to speak. We have also seen that the threat may be someone who is related to students or staff. FBI statistics (https://www.fbi.gov/file-repository/pre-attack-behaviors-of-active-shooters-in-us-2000-2013.pdf/view) state that active shooters do not necessarily have targeted victims. The statistics are almost divided by thirds. With past incidents, we have seen some of the following examples, too, suggesting that the threat may have been a student who is already inside the school, another may be a former student coming back to the school, or someone who has no relationship to the school whatsoever, but they are drawn to that school as a target. Not knowing makes it really hard, so we have to train for everything and maintain both situational awareness and good communication.
A lot can happen outside the control of the school: warnings that may have been in a police lead that weren’t followed up, failing to provide mental health care, or a family member or neighbor who should have reported something.
Districtwide, we work toward a culture that makes all our students feel accepted and know that they have someone to help them. Our students have been good about reporting about potential problems and helping their peers seek help.
We try to build a culture of reporting, but not tattle-tale telling. When someone is tattling, they are doing that to try to get some personal gain. You tattle on your sister so she gets sent to bed with no dessert and does not get the piece of apple pie that you want. Reporting is different. You make a report because you have a concern about your safety or the safety of another person.
What about all the instances that you have heard about in which a problem was reported, but nothing was done? Part of building a culture of reporting is making sure that the students see that when a report is made, that person actually receives the help that they need. They need to see that help, not punishment, was given.
We have to have more tools than just a hammer. For example, all school employees are trained in emergency medical trauma and have individual first aid kits. To my knowledge, we were the second in the state of the Texas to have designated armed employees, the first to have long guns, and the first to have emergency medical trauma gear. It is great that we can be prepared, and sometimes people say, “Oh, it is so cool that you can have your teachers armed,” but in reality, if we ever have to take out a school shooter, many things will have failed beforehand.
In the end, reporting is all about giving someone the help they need, not getting somebody in trouble. We are all interconnected, we are all part of the Christoval Cougar family. A few years ago, a Christoval family’s house burned down. On their own, our students took it upon themselves to do a fundraiser to help that family, who were really down and out and had already experienced some troubles. It brought together the “haves” and “have-nots.”
Just like any family, we have imperfections and things that we work on. We continue to learn, and try to build a better mouse trap, so to speak. I would like to think that for the most part our students and the community see that we are trying to get our students and their families help that they need.
eJournal: Looking back, what would you say was the biggest impediment you overcame while initially implementing your school district’s Guardian plan?
Walker: Just creating most of this from scratch and having to become immersed in all of this as an avid learner. I believe that this impediment wound up being a huge strength as I have been fortunate to share my knowledge, insight, and experiences with other school districts so they would not have to reinvent the wheel. It has also allowed me to advocate for school safety and be a voice for our children.
Since this was all new territory, there were no organizations for schools with Guardian Plans, so I read as much research as I could find about active killers, mental health, and threat assessment. With my law enforcement and military contacts, I had to glean only tactical skills appropriate for a civilian environment. It must have tactical legitimacy. I attended conferences on the subject and built a network of resources ranging from the I Love You Guys Foundation to the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Center (http://ALERRT.org), Texas School Safety Center (https://txssc.txstate.edu/), and the Armed Citizens’ Legal Defense Network.
eJournal: I’m really pleased to hear that our member education videos were useful! Now that you have six years’ experience with armed school staff, what are the challenges facing the Guardian plan as you continue forward?
Walker: People want to talk about everything except the elephant in the room: mental health and the policies surrounding it. Mental health issues in students and adults continue to grow in our state and nation. Social media, violent movies, and video games continue to desensitize our youth to violence and glorify death.
There is so much money made off of movies and games, that it is sort of like the way the tobacco industry for many years worked to sway elected officials to say there was no medical proof that there was harm in smoking. That is a lie!
I urge everyone to read Assassination Generation: Video Games, Aggression, and the Psychology of Killing (https://www.amazon.com/Assassination-Generation-Aggression-Psychology-Killing/dp/147890979X) by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, Stop Teaching our Kids to Kill: A Call to Action Against TV, Movie & Video Game Violence (https://www.amazon.com/Stop-Teaching-Our-Kids-Kill/dp/0804139350), and Why Meadow Died: The People and Policies That Created The Parkland Shooter and Endanger America’s Students by Andrew Pollack and Max Eden (https://www.amazon.com/Why-Meadow-Died-Policies-Parkland/dp/1642932191/).
There is sufficient evidence on how various types of media affect the human mind at each age group. A non-adult brain is more susceptible to damage and does not require as much exposure time. Private companies are not self-censoring, government entities are not censoring, and many parents are not censoring and limiting their children’s time and exposure on electronic devices. Less authentic and less in-person interaction is taking place between family members and friends. We are now connected to everyone in the world, but how much human interaction is taking place?
Let’s talk about mental health. Let’s talk about our procedures, policies and laws in place. Let’s talk about violent video games. Let’s talk about the development of the brain and everything else that goes into it. We should quit worrying so much about our foreign enemies because we are going to implode from within.
I am convinced that the most important thing someone can do is to raise good kids. That is the most important thing we can do as Americans and for the world at large. The kids don’t have a voice, so we as adults have to be the voice for them and do what is right for them.
This should not be about the Left versus the Right; it is about raising good children and having good policies in place to intervene if a child needs help especially if someone is exhibiting behaviors that could lead to harm to him/herself or to others. Too often, I hear politicians on both sides pushing the buttons of whichever side they represent. Andy Pollack, who was the father of Meadow Pollack, one of the victims of the Parkland mass murder, stated it best about the people behind the scenes in the preface of Why Meadow Died “…the same people who weaponized the tragedy to stoke controversy and division and to advance their own political agenda” (Pollack & Eden 2019, p. xix).
School safety is a complicated problem that involves a lot of things and many variables that fall outside of the school. What can the school do to deter school shootings? If a shooting happens, what can schools do to stop it quickly? Two lives were lost in the shooting in the church in White Settlement, TX, but it was stopped quickly and that averted what could have been a massacre like the one that happened at a church in Sutherland Springs, TX.
We have got to quit blaming guns! A gun is just a tool! If someone is killed with the screwdriver or with a hammer people don’t go around saying, “It was a screwing; it was a hammering.” No, only if a gun is used do they say, “It was a shooting.” Murder is murder.
For parents, or anyone who has concerns about school shootings, I say, think about it like this: if there is a tragedy of any type, an accident, a car wreck, a tornado, hurricane or a fire, there is a likelihood that there are going to be casualties. We can’t prevent all emergencies but we can limit the casualties. Loss of life or limb is far too costly and leaves emotional scars on everyone involved–they are affected for the rest of their lives.
We do not want to lose anyone. The reality is that we are in an imperfect world and there are evil and ill people who do evil things, so we have to try to stop or limit the killing as much as we can. The question that always gnaws at you is not “If?” it is “When,” so you have to be careful not to get complacent. We cannot fail. We aren’t talking about losing a football game; it is losing lives.
eJournal: Someone had to do the groundwork that you and Superintendent Thweatt of the Harrold, TX, schools did. I know you don’t want a lot of adulation, but the fact is someone had to go first. Now, following on, there may be schools which look at what you have done and not be able to do exactly what you did, but perhaps they can implement part of it. They are still safer than they were before. It makes a difference.
Walker: I had a lot of help with the framework from Harrold ISD, but there has been a lot of this that we had to create, invent, and put together. If a superintendent is asked to do this, or a school board is asked to do this, I would like to know that they would not have to re-create the wheel. It does not have to be exactly the way Christoval has it, but at least there could be a good example for them so that they would not have to spend the countless hours that I have spent.
Any time that there is a mass killing event and we do not learn from it, children have died in vain. Remember the faces of the victims at Sandy Hook that were all over the media in December 2012? I do not want those children to have died in vain if history repeated itself. Now, whenever I see that an incident has happened, I want to learn all about it so that we can be better prepared. These things should not happen.
eJournal: Leading the way to prevent the deaths of school children by spree killers will definitely be part of your legacy.
Walker: I hope that I am remembered for three things after my time here at Christoval. I would like to be remembered for what we have been able to do with career and technology education and work-based learning as far as increasing opportunities by educating and getting people prepared for the world. I am determined that our students are marketable and adaptable and that, as jobs and industries change, they will never be in the unemployment line. Our students will have the hard and soft skills needed for meaningful employment.
I would like to be remembered for our school safety program and being a true guardian to all. When I’m asked to give interviews or speak at other school districts or schools in our region and across the state, it is not beating our chests or anything like that. I just do it to be an advocate of the Guardian Plan. We believe the Guardian Plan works; we believe it increases deterrence.
Lastly, I hope that I am remembered as a good and loving father to my children.
About our source: We think Dr. David R. Walker is well on his way to achieving those goals. As our Feb. 1 edition of this journal was in the final publication stages, Dr. Walker reported that he was just back from co-presenting a well-attended break out session at the Mid-winter Texas Association of School Administrators, discussing options for ensuring school safety. His co-presenter was Attorney Tyler Ezell of the school’s law firm, Eichelbaum Wardell Hansen Powell & Munoz. As a result, the duo has been asked by the TX School Safety Center to present again on that topic this summer.
Dr. Walker serves on the TX Education Agency’s TX Work-Based Learning Champions Group and is an adviser to the chairman of the House Select Committee on Mass Violence and Public Safety.
On the lighter side, during a follow-up call to tie down details from our initial interview, Dr. Walker apologized for being a little hurried, explaining that his schedule was a little tight because he needed to get into a track suit and head out to the gymnasium where he was to play a game of dodgeball with his students.
To read more of this month's journal, please click here.