Area schools keep existing concealed-carry policies

7/27/2013

By ANGIE HAFLICH

By ANGIE HAFLICH

ahaflich@gctelegram.com

Unlike state and municipal buildings, school districts in Kansas are exempt from recently passed concealed-carry legislation.

However, with school board approval, school districts may allow those with concealed-carry permits to bring handguns onto school grounds. But insurance carriers for the districts have made it known that such districts which allow this will be dropped from coverage.

"The concealed-carry law does not apply to school districts. It only applies to local cites and municipalities, so school districts are exempt from the law," said Donna Whiteman, assistant executive director of legal services at the Kansas Association of School Boards. "So really, it's business as usual for school districts. They can always post no carry."

While school districts have the option of allowing concealed-carry on their campuses, Whiteman said major insurance companies, such as EMC Insurance Companies, which covers most of the state's smaller districts, has made it clear that they will discontinue coverage should any of the school boards allow any type of firearms on school grounds.

"EMC and other insurance companies that provide errors and omissions liability insurance to school districts got an exclusion that they don't have to cover any incidents that would happen in a school, if the school board allowed concealed-carry. (Only) security officers and school resource officers are allowed to be armed under statute," Whiteman said. "But these are folks who have been trained for eight weeks at the law enforcement training center."

Lisa Hamilton, vice president/corporate communications, EMC Insurance Companies, said the firm is not aware of any Kansas schools that have not renewed with EMC.

"... EMC puts great emphasis on providing our school insureds with safety and loss control resources, and we are pleased that they are continuing their coverage with EMC," Hamilton said.

Many school districts in southwest Kansas have either opted to leave already existing school policies in place, or revise their policies.

USD 214 in Ulysses, USD 494 in Syracuse and USD 215 in Lakin, have all opted for the former.

USD 214 Superintendent David Younger said that after some discussion by the school board, it was decided to leave the existing policy alone.

"We're going to leave it alone. We're not going to change our policy," Younger said, adding that personally, he didn't think allowing concealed-carry on school grounds was good practice.

USD 494 Superintendent Kenny Bridges echoed Younger's sentiments.

"We discussed it, but we're not touching it. We're not opening that can of worms," Bridges said.

Both Younger and Bridges said the insurance coverage issue played a part in their respective school boards' decisions, but that other factors came into play, as well.

"When you open that door, you end up with all sorts of things to deal with, all sorts of policy," Bridges said.

USD 477 in Ingalls discussed a variation of concealed-carry. Superintendent Dave Novack said the school board's discussion about the subject was to possibly allow administrators to be armed with some type of protection, but that any type of weapon would be stored in a lock box.

"As a whole, (the school board) seems a little more open-minded, not about concealed-carry, but about allowing some kind of protection by the administrator," Novack said, adding that law enforcement assistance would likely be provided by the Gray County Sheriff's Office in Cimarron, which is 6.5 miles away. "So a lot of that discussion came about because of response time."

Novack said after receiving a letter from EMC Insurance, which is USD 477's insurance carrier, it was decided to leave things as they are.

"The letter EMC sent out to all school districts is that they would not provide coverage ... We haven't really pursued it since we got the information from the insurance company," he said.

The original notification to EMC agents in Kansas was sent on May 15 and said, in part, "EMC has concluded that concealed handguns on school premises pose a heightened liability risk. Because of this increased risk, we have chosen not to insure schools that allow employees to carry concealed handguns."

In another statement issued July 8, Mick Lovell, vice president of business development at EMC Insurance Companies said, in part, "We've been writing school business for almost 40 years, and one of the underwriting guidelines we follow for schools is that any on-site armed security should be provided by uniformed, qualified law enforcement officers. Our guidelines have not recently changed."

USD 363 in Holcomb also is covered by EMC Insurance. Superintendent Jean Rush said that while the district has no current policy regarding concealed-carry, the board will review KASB recommendations at its Aug. 12 meeting.

"We'll review KASB recommendations and adopt the policy in September, I would anticipate," Rush said.

At Monday's school board meeting, Garden City USD 457, also covered by EMC, approved revisions to a policy prohibiting district employees with concealed-carry permits from bringing them onto school property, or to school-sponsored events.

The revised policy still allows for school resource and law enforcement officers to carry their weapons.

"Most school districts, I think, would prefer that the Legislature just provide the money to hire sufficient security officers in all schools. Right now, most of (the schools) only have them at the high school level because of the money, the cost of it," Whiteman said.

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