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School Safety Considerations

October 17, 2018

Safety is a top priority for all schools and at every level of education. In light of recent tragedies around the nation and in Texas, public schools, including open-enrollment charter schools, are facing critical decisions on how to best protect and safeguard children. Among those safety options, includes considering whether to permit firearms on campus. For charter schools, those options include possible implementation of the Guardian Plan, the Marshall Plan, a school resource officer, or use of a private security firm.  Understanding the requirements, responsibilities and liabilities associated with these school safety options will be important to schools considering how to best protect their students.

Guardian and Marshall Plans

Under both the Guardian Plan and Marshall Plan the governing body of a charter school may authorize designated employees to carry firearms on school district property. The Marshall Plan is more structured, requires specific training for designated employees and limits school marshals to one per 200 students.

School Resource Officers

A School Resource Officer (SRO) is a peace officer assigned by the officer’s employing jurisdiction (i.e. municipal police department, county sheriff, etc.) to provide a police presence, safety or drug education to students, or other similar services. To employ an SRO, the school must enter into a memorandum of understanding with another governmental entity to have the peace officer placed at the school on a full or part-time basis.

Private Security

If a charter school employs a private company, rather than its own employees to provide security, state law does not directly address whether the company’s employees may be authorized to carry firearms. This arrangement will be guided by a contract between the school and the private company and should be reviewed by the school’s attorney.

While state and federal law gives schools broad discretion to authorize the possession of firearms and other weapons on school premises, granting such authority brings a host of practical concerns, including safety and liability. Prior to permitting firearms on campus, schools should consider local environmental factors, including first responder response time, proximity to major thorough fares, history of violent incidents, etc. Other factors to consider include coordination with local law enforcement, community input, stakeholder input, confidentiality, and most importantly liability issues.

Civil Liability

Permitting firearms on campus exposes a school district to additional risks, including theft, accidents, or injuries to school personnel or students.  A public school that adopts a policy or practice that introduces risk, such as permitting firearms on campus, arguably may increase exposure to liability. School districts considering permitting firearms on campus should discuss the decision with their school attorney and insurance provider to gain a solid understanding of the possible federal, state, civil and criminal risks that are associated with this school safety option.

Of course, permitting firearms on campus is not the only school safety option or consideration. Schools may also consider installing additional doors and facility security devices, including alarms, panic buttons, self-locking doors, metal detectors and closed-circuit cameras. Each school community must decide what is best for their local environment based on factors such as school needs, size, location and costs. There is no one-size-fits-all solution.

When considering school safety options, school leaders are faced with a daunting task. Their decisions should be research based and informed by the needs of each community. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. If considering permitting firearms on campus, schools must weigh the added security benefits with increased risks and decide what is best for their community. A team approach that includes community stakeholders, legal representatives and risk management, will help schools reach the choice that is best for their community and circumstance.

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