News

Tamaqua school panel votes to postpone policy to arm teachers

Written by The Associated Press and Keystone Crossroads | Jan 10, 2019 4:39 AM
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A crowd listen to a speaker as members of the public gathered on Nov. 7 at Tamaqua Middle School (Matt Smith/Keystone Crossroads)

(Tamaqua) -- School board members in Schuylkill County have voted to postpone a policy allowing teachers to carry guns in school.

In a 2-1 vote Tuesday evening, the Tamaqua school board's Security Committee says it will suspend its implementation  pending a court hearing on its validity.

Both teachers and parents have filed lawsuits against the policy claiming it violates state law and poses a danger to the community.

The policy -- unanimously approved by the school board in September -- requires that staff go through a firearm-training program before they can carry guns on campus. The board has also said that staff would be screened for their fitness to carry firearms. Teachers and other employees can volunteer to carry concealed, district-issued guns after training.

But the lawsuit filed by parents last Thursday in the Schuylkill County Court of Common Pleas alleges the screening process is vague and the training requirement does not go far enough, putting it in violation of Pennsylvania's school code. The lawsuit also argues the school district has overstepped its powers as granted by the state Constitution.

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Holly Koscak, a parent and plaintiff in the lawsuit against the Tamaqua Area School District, speaks out against a policy to arm school staff. "I don't believe a teacher should have to pack and carry, their sole responsibility should be to teach a student," she said. (Jen Kinney/Keystone Crossroads)

The power to regulate the "lawful ownership, possession, transfer, or transportation of firearms" is explicitly reserved for the General Assembly. The lawsuit argues this precludes school districts from actions that would "authorize or restrict the use of firearms on school property."

State law currently prohibits guns on school grounds, except for an undefined "lawful purpose." The Pennsylvania school code states that schools may employ armed police officers or school resource officers, so long as they have graduated from the police academy or completed training under the Municipal Police Education and Training Law -- programs which require hundreds of hours of experience.

The district serves more than 2,100 students and is believed to be the first school system in the state to let teachers carry weapons.

The full board is slated to vote on the policy Tuesday.

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