Home News Local News Resident criticizes school district's gun policy
Resident criticizes school district's gun policy
By CHRIS COLLINS
For the second time in two weeks, the elephant in the room was exposed at a public meeting in Baker City.
The animal came in the form of the Baker School District’s weapons policy Tuesday night.
At the Nov. 8 meeting of the Baker City Council, the touchy topic was cryptosporidium, a parasite found in the city’s drinking water that went unreported for several weeks. The topic was not discussed by city councilors until the meeting was nearing its end.
That’s what happened again Tuesday night when the Baker School Board met. The district’s weapons policy was not on the board’s agenda and was not discussed until time came for a second opportunity for members of the public to comment.
That’s when Daniel Batchelor, owner of Powder River precision, a Baker City company that manufactures firearm parts, asked the board to reconsider the district’s administrative rule enforcing its weapons policy.
“It is the elephant in the room and it will not be going away,” Batchelor said. “The weapons policy as it is written has a clause that excludes individuals with visible guns.
“There is no authority delegated to a school board to make such a rule,” Batchelor said. “The school board is using its authority beyond what it’s allowed to do. It’s a conflict I’d like to point out and it should be dealt with as soon as possible.”
But Superintendent Walt Wegener said the district’s administrative rules were developed after consulting with Baker City Police.
“We have a corporate right to trespass somebody we don’t want on our property,” Wegener said. “We just wanted a trespass policy.”
The administrative rules prohibit “possession of a weapon in plain sight.”
Police Chief Wyn Lohner said his conversation with the district started after a parent wearing a knife on his hip came to South Baker School and staff members became concerned.
Police were not called to the school to address that incident, Lohner said. But they would have responded had they been called regardless of whether the district had a weapons-free policy in place, he said.
If school employees would have asked the parent to leave and he refused, police then could have acted on a trespassing charge, Lohner said.
“We always respond,” he said. “But a policy will give them a more solid ground to ask people to leave and give us more comfort with actual lawfulness of asking somebody to leave without violating their constitutional rights.”
During a discussion after the South Baker incident, Lohner said he asked Principal Betty Palmer if the school had a policy in place about displaying weapons.
The school did not.
“The part about having a policy was not so much that police would have more authority,” he said “It was more for the school to protect itself and to have an easy justification for asking someone with a weapon to leave.”
Director Kyle Knight said during Tuesday’s meeting that he has polled school districts throughout the state and discovered that 20 of the 197 districts have weapons policies related to staff and patrons.
Knight disagrees with a clause in the 5J policy that prohibits staff with concealed handgun licenses from bringing guns on school property.
The policy does not exclude patrons and volunteers with permits to carry concealed weapons on school grounds.
At its October meeting, attorney Dan Van Thiel, the district’s legal adviser, told directors they could face personal liability if the district allowed any firearms on school property. The district’s insurance carrier also has warned that premiums could increase if firearms are allowed on district property.
Knight proposed a motion Tuesday to rescind the administrative rules developed by Wegener until more information about the liability issue and insurance costs are available.
The motion failed on a 3-2 vote with Knight and director Jim Stillwell in favor. Lynne Burroughs, Andrew Bryan and Mark Henderson voted against the motion.
Henderson said today that although he would prefer that staff as well as patrons and volunteers with concealed handgun permits be allowed to carry guns on school property, he will go along with the administrative rules now in place, which exclude staff, but not the public.
The rules do allow staff members who have a concealed handgun permit to ask their principal for permission to bring the gun to school.
Henderson spoke with Oregon School Boards Association lawyers during an OSBA conference in Portland last weekend and said there was no consensus on the legality of the issue of concealed handgun license holders carrying visible weapons. The lawyers will be investigating the issue.
Henderson agrees with Knight’s position of allowing staff with permits to carry guns to school. He maintains they could defend students should a school shooting occur.
“I feel we’ve won most of the battle and can work on the fine print,” Henderson said.
After the vote on Knight’s motion, Burroughs recommended that the board revisit the issue when more information is available about liability and the insurance costs.
Knight expressed his concern about the district exposing itself to more liability because of overstepping the state and federal laws regarding rights of concealed weapons permit holders.
“If we have a lawsuit, we know who’s responsible,” he said.
“Yes we do,” Burroughs replied.