Kern High School District leaders approved a controversial policy Monday allowing some to carry concealed firearms on campus, however the implementation of that policy remains murky with board members differing on their interpretations.
The decision was sparked by Senate Bill 707, which bars guns on public school district property, except for those Concealed Carry Weapon permit holders who receive written exemptions from local superintendents or their representatives.
At this point, KHSD isn’t allowing its employees to carry firearms on campuses and other district properties. Trustees will take up that matter Aug. 1.
Despite months of discussion and two hours of debate Monday, board members laid out few guidelines on how the policy would be rolled out.
District officials said in a statement Tuesday that “details are still being worked out” and refused to comment further.
APPLYING FOR PERMITS
Under the policy, Superintendent Bryon Schaefer will receive applications from CCW holders asking permission to carry on campus, but there’s no clear rubric Schaefer would use to decide.
Board members agreed Monday that they didn't want to “deputize” the district's top administrator, forcing him to judge who can carry a gun, but the policy implies just that. Whether someone can carry a gun on campus is at his discretion.
Also foggy is the amount of time administrators would need to review those applications, something Kern High School Teachers Association President Vickie Shoenhair took issue with Monday.
“We feel that our students have already been shortchanged by taking so much time for this issue from the department of instruction that should have been spent on developing resources to help our students succeed personally and academically,” Shoenhair said.
The KHSTA's 1,650 members have not taken an official stance, Shoenhair said, but few were pleased with the months of research district administrators have performed for trustees in preparation for a vote.
Similarly, board members spent the lion's share of the meeting Monday discussing guns, and fewer than 15 minutes discussing the Local Control Accountability Plan, which determines how the district would spend long-term funding.
“We need to focus more on the LCAP and education issues,” Trustee Jeff Flores said Tuesday when asked about the amount of time the district has spent on the gun issue. “We did spend a lot of time dissecting the gun issue and granted, this is not bringing lollipops on campus — it’s weapons. But I'd like to focus on education.”
Board members said Monday they didn't want to approve a “blanket policy” that would allow anyone with a CCW permit to carry on campus. But after the meeting, board President Mike Williams indicated that indeed, anyone with a permit who applies to carry at KHSD facilities would be rubber-stamped.
“I think the superintendent's pretty clear, he'd need good reason to deny somebody,” Williams told The Californian.
Flores disagreed with that interpretation, stressing that the district reserves the right to approve or deny applicants. When pressed about what the guidelines would be, Flores said they hadn't been developed yet.
In a hypothetical situation, however, he said a permit holder should have his or her exemption yanked for brandishing a gun on campus.
Still, it’s unclear how a permit holder would even go about applying to carry a gun on campus. Williams said Monday that he could have the Kern County Sheriff's Office include an application to carry on KHSD property when individuals renew or apply for CCW permits.
But Flores said the district hasn't yet discussed that with the Sheriff's Office.
A HIGHER LIABILITY
While Williams argued that allowing CCW holders on district property would create “an extra layer of safety,” a risk management expert said it increases the liability the district faces.
Allowing guns on campus is an additional risk KHSD's insurance company must factor into rates, said David Pilcher, an Orange County-based risk management insurance and claims consultant.
“To be doing a rubber-stamp job as long as they have a permit … that could open up a whole can of worms as to whether they were properly screened, or is this negligent entrustment?” Pilcher said. “There's definitely an increase in potential for liability.”
That could drive up insurance premiums, Pilcher said, but he couldn't speculate on how much without knowledge of the district's policy.
Despite that, Flores said he thinks it will decrease the district's liability.
“Potentially, a CCW permit could save lives and decrease liability,” Flores said. “Or you could have an accident.”
But Pilcher said that because the district has no control over those carrying firearms, just the opposite is true. And a superintendent signing off and allowing specific individuals to bring firearms on campus increases the risk if something should go wrong and an employee or student is accidentally shot, he said.
“If you're going to allow people to come onto campus with a concealed carry, then that's the district's call and the superintendent's call, and if something goes wrong then there's a concept known as strict liability,” Pilcher said.
Pilcher likened that to somebody owning an animal and letting it get loose. If that animal harms somebody, the owner is liable, Pilcher said.
“That I think would follow in this situation,” Pilcher said.
Tom Russo, a representative from the district's insurance provider, Keenan and Associates, said he doesn't believe allowing CCW holders to carry weapons on campus would increase rates or liability.
“I'm not aware they passed that. I know districts have, but I don't see it affecting insurance premiums,” Russo said.