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The One Big Problem with Arming Teachers

January 10, 2017

Editor’s note: This article was first published in January 2017.

The question of whether to arm teachers is back in the news, stirring up a debate that Coloradans know all too well. Yet regardless of how anyone feels about it, the idea poses a big problem for schools: finding an insurance company willing to cover them.

It is not, most insurance providers will tell you, a preferred method of managing risk.

The idea returned to the headlines earlier this month after a school district in eastern El Paso County voted to allow its teachers and other school staff to carry guns on campus to protect students.

It’s easy to understand what motivated the Hanover School District 28 board to act.

It takes law enforcement an average of 20 minutes to get to either of the two schools in the district. The district shares one armed school resource officer with four other school districts.

The Hanover board vote, however, wasn’t unanimous. School board President Mark, a retired Army officer, said he didn’t think any of the training planned for teachers who volunteer to be armed would be enough to help them respond effectively to an active shooter.

“Our rooms are supposed to be locked and secure. We have cameras. We have a very vigilant staff,” he told the Denver Post. “We are authorizing teachers to pull a weapon and kill a human being, and I cannot support that.”

Ken Trump, a national school safety consultant, says the ideal solution is for school districts to put certified law enforcement officers on campus – such as through the U.S. Department of Justice’s School Resource Officer program – rather than give security duties to school staff.

Most Americans agree. A Pew poll found that although 64 percent of Americans favored putting armed security guards of some kind in schools, they were largely opposed to giving teachers and school officials guns.

Regardless, other school districts in Colorado as well as in Texas, Oklahoma and California have also backed allowing teachers to carry weapons. The push to arm teachers followed the 2012 attack that left 20 children and six adults dead at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.

Soon after that massacre, NRA chief Wayne LaPierre suggested the federal government should put armed guards in every school. When that idea was rejected as being too expensive, school districts began to consider taking matters into their own hands.

Supporters say training teachers to carry guns better protects students and, if anything, should put insurance companies more at ease. But insurers worry about who could be sued if a gun­-related accident occurred on school property.

That’s why many insurance carriers have been reluctant to do business with such districts. Instead, carriers prefer that districts hire uniformed, trained security officers.

It’s not a political statement for the insurers; it’s about their bottom lines, a reflection of formulas they use to assess the risk of covering any exposure.

Of course, not every carrier will decline to do business with districts that follow Hanover 28’s model, but those that do will impose significantly higher premiums.

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