Kernville Union School District Superintendent Robin Shive breathed a sigh of relief after his school board split 2-2 last month on a vote to allow concealed weapons on district campuses and at school-related events. The tie meant people with Concealed Carry Weapon permits would not be allowed to take their firearm on a campus.
The tie vote underscored a debate many school districts are having thanks to SB 707, a new law that allows CCW permit holders to carry firearms on school grounds and college campuses if they get an OK from a school district superintendent.
But judging from some of the comments being made at school board meetings, the issue is being politicized and framed as a Second Amendment right. That notion was quickly shot down at a workshop held by the Kern County Superintendent of Schools office. Allowing teachers, staff and members of the general public who hold a CCW permit to pack heat on school grounds is a legal minefield should they shoot an innocent person.
"There's so many risk management implications," said Catherine Jones, director of risk management at KCSOS.
She believes too many school districts are being pressured to approve a policy without clearly thinking through its ramifications. It's ultimately about what's in the best interest of protecting children, not buckling to political pressure. A common misconception, Jones said, is that having people armed with a gun will deter a shooter from coming on a school campus.
"There is no evidence that supports that either way," said Jones, meaning no evidence a CCW permit holder is or is not a deterrent. Districts that approve concealed weapons on their sites now grapple with developing a coherent policy for CCW holders to follow.
Not helping matters is that SB 707 is silent on helping school districts develop policies for implementing the legislation. Also not getting involved is the California Department of Education. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson would prefer schools ban all guns, period.
"The superintendent wants guns off school grounds in California. He hopes school districts do the right thing and prohibit any kind of firearms possession on campuses," Education Department spokesman Robert Oakes wrote in an email.
Districts that allow concealed weapons on campus expose themselves to tremendous liability. Should school employees allowed to carry a gun somehow end up shooting an innocent person or have their weapon taken from them by a student or someone else is a real scenario schools must consider.
SB 707 leaves it up to each district to decide what kind of policy to have, meaning we could end up with a hodgepodge of policies. A key question is: Who gets to carry?
To help answer that, Self Insured Schools of California, the insurance group that represents the majority of districts in Kern County, has come up with a list of recommendations. Among them are requiring CCW holders to complete a 24-hour Police Officer Standards Training course, undergoing an annual psychiatric evaluation by a district-approved psychiatrist, providing proof of personal liability insurance and surrendering their gun to a superintendent if requested. Just someone being a CCW permit holder isn't a good enough reason to allow him or her to bring a gun on campus, said Jones.
One school district that will consider adopting the SISC recommendations is Panama-Buena Vista Union. Its school board already approved allowing teachers, staff and the public with a CCW permit to carry a weapon on campus.
"We may not know a person that well," Assistant Superintendent Gerrie Kincaid said as one reason for having the requirements. But there's more behind it. "We have to consider the liability," she said.
The California College and University Police Chiefs Association sponsored the bill, and it urges school districts to use best practices.
"We would expect schools would be exercising reasonable care," said spokesman John Lovell.
While the Kern High School District board of trustees approved allowing non-employees to carry concealed weapons on campus, it apparently is not implementing any of the recommendations made by SISC.
The district's policy states that "the board of trustees authorizes the superintendent or his designee to grant permission to any non-employee CCW permit holder who is at a minimum 21-years-old to carry a firearm on campus." And that person must be a nice guy, meaning "of good moral character." The only additional requirement is that CCW holders carry personal liability insurance of at least $1 million and agree to hold the district harmless in any lawsuit arising out of misuse of a firearm at a school site.
So far, KHSD has granted 11 CCW permit holders permission to carry on campus. Their names are public information.
The state's largest elementary school district is having none of this.
"I'm shocked that other school districts would approve having guns on their campus," said Pam Baugher, longtime Bakersfield City School District board member.
The former teacher said the goal should be to have fewer, not more, guns at schools: "It's a bigger hazard when you have guns on campus than not."
Contributing columnist Jose Gaspar is a reporter for KBAK/KBFX Eyewitness News. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. His work appears here every third Monday; the views expressed are his own.