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Arming Teachers Could Jeopardize Kansas Schools' Insurance

Originally posted at the Rules for Engagement blog

by Nirvi Shah

If school districts in Kansas decide to give their teachers guns, those school systems could lose their insurance coverage.

The Topeka Capital-Journal reported this week that the company that insures 90 percent of Kansas' 286 school boards won't renew or write new policies for districts that allow employees to work while armed.

"We understand that school districts have every right to decide which way they want to go," said Bernie Zalaznik, the vice president of EMC Insurance Companies. "But we have to make the decision based on what we perceive to be our best financial interest."

In a letter to insurance agents, the company wrote that it cares deeply about the safety of Kansas school children, but the company has concluded that concealed handguns on school grounds "pose a heightened liability risk."

"We are making this underwriting decision simply to protect the financial security of our company," the May 15 letter says.

Kansas is one of at least three states that has adopted laws since the shootings in Newtown, Conn., last December that gives districts the option of arming selected employees. The others are South Dakota and Tennessee.

An Education Week analysis of state safety bills introduced since the December shootings in Newtown shows that many of these bills are still under consideration.

The Kansas Association of School Boards—which has advised district not to arm employees—told the Capital-Journal that about a dozen mostly small districts around the state had shown interest in giving select staff members guns, and the insurance company had heard directly from about a half-dozen districts.

Two other insurers of Kansas districts have also decided not to cover liabilities related to concealed firearms or not to insure such districts at all, the school boards association told the newspaper.

In Tennessee, insurance coverage hasn't come up as an issue, said Tammy Grissom, executive director of the school boards association in that state, but she also wasn't aware of any districts that plan to adopt policies allowing employees to carry concealed firearms to school.

Zalaznik said he had heard directly from or indirectly from about five or six districts seeking information on allowing guns in schools. David Shriver, director of the school board association's insurance program, said about a dozen districts around the state, mostly small ones, have called and expressed interest.

The school board association is advising all districts against using the new law to arm school employees.

Shriver said two other insurers of districts, Wright Specialty Insurance and Continental Western Group, also have decided either not to cover liabilities related to concealed firearms or not to insure such districts at all.

Two Texas superintendents I interviewed earlier this year told me that adopting policies that allow some employees to carry weapons didn't have an effect on their insurance coverage. Both districts had their policies in place long before the Newtown shootings. (Texas has allowed districts to choose to arm selected employees since 2008.)

In the Southland district, which has 163 students, Superintendent Toby Miller told me that not only did his insurer agree that the district wasn't adding any type of liability that didn't already exist in the district, "my understanding was, if there is a guy on campus with a gun, taking the steps to take him out if anything decreases liability."

In Texas' 100-student Harrold district, Superintendent David Thweatt said one carrier declined to insure his district after its policies on arming teachers changed—but a new carrier had no problem with it and charged the district a lower premium, too.

Something you may recall: In one Texas district that decided to arm selected employees since the December shootings in Newtown, an employee shot himself during a practice session on the firing range.

Follow Rules for Engagement on Twitter @Rulz4Engagement and Education Week Staff Writer Nirvi Shah on Twitter @NirviShah.

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