An attorney, risk management specialist and insurance director advised school district leaders across the county Friday that it’s their right to allow concealed weapons on campus, but the liabilities could be huge.
District leaders learned about the risks of — and received recommendations about — implementing SB 707 during a workshop organized by the Kern County Superintendent of Schools office.
That bill, passed last year, bars people from carrying a firearm onto public school grounds but exempts Concealed Carry Weapon permit holders given written permission by district superintendents.
The recommendations mirrored the opinion of Kern County Superintendent of Schools Christine Lizardi Frazier, who opposes allowing guns at schools but believes districts should make their own decisions after careful consideration.
Advisers Friday warned district leaders against taking a political stance on the matter.
“In school districts, it’s very politically driven and school district administrators get pressured by boards and communities to do one thing or the other, and that’s generally driven through the lens they’re looking through for the Second Amendment,” said Alan Harris, counsel with Schools Legal Services. “But this isn’t a Second Amendment issue -- it’s a risk management issue.”
Allowing employees to be armed is the highest risk a district can expose itself to, said Catherine Wilson-Jones, director of risk management at the KCSOS office. That’s something the Kern High School District is considering, having already allowed non-employee CCW permit holders to carry on campus.
“You’re responsible for granting that decision, so even though you’re not responsible for what they do, you’re responsible for the decision you made to let them do it,” Wilson-Jones said.
Much of the discussion Friday dealt with the unknown elements of enacting such a policy.
“One of the scary things about a firearms policy is the question that I don’t have an answer for: whether you’re creating a duty to respond in a way you don’t have right now,” Wilson-Jones said.
If districts do approve a firearms policy, Self Insured Schools of California — which represents many districts across Kern County — has a list of recommendations.
It includes CCW holders going through 24-hour Police Officers Standards and Training course, undergoing a psychological examination, providing proof of insurance, agreeing to surrender their firearm to a superintendent if requested, limiting ammunition carried and not using the weapon to defend property.
Despite all those recommendations, Robert Kretzmer, director of property and liability at SISC, said there isn’t an individual insurance policy available that would cover the liability.
“An individual with a policy is potentially covered only up to certain limits afforded by that policy - so if damages are sought in excess of the limit, that individual could be financially exposed,” Kretzmer said.
Except Harris said that more than likely, if somebody fires a gun on campus and is sued, it’s the district that will bear the brunt of the lawsuit because most plaintiff’s attorneys will recognize that homeowner insurance policies don’t provide enough coverage to make it worth their while.
“The school gets $20 million a year from the state. That’s who you want to go after, and if anything, settle with the individual for a small amount, then they testify against the institution and make the case against the institution that much stronger,” Harris said.
While most attendees have not taken a stance on SB 707, others, like Lakeside Union School District Superintendent Ty Bryson, said KHSD’s decision this year has created a ripple effect.
His district has a no-gun policy, but board members want more information on whether allowing guns on campus could be a good thing, Bryson said.
Meanwhile, Lost Hills Union Elementary School District Superintendent Harrison Favereaux said after the meeting that he was overwhelmed with the amount of liability and policy options and would likely push back his board’s discussion of the topic to research it more.
Of course, districts are not required to take a stance on SB 707, a choice that has some upsides, Harris said.
“You don’t have to administer its implementation, and maybe that’s one less school administrator you need, and more money for the classroom,” Harris said.