Spirit Lake district repeals policy allowing school staff to carry guns | #schoolsaftey

Spirit Lake’s public school district has repealed a policy allowing staff to carry guns on campus, the district announced during a special board meeting Thursday.

The Spirit Lake Community School District scheduled the meeting in advance of its current liability insurance policy expiring on June 30.  In November, the district was notified by its insurer, EMC, that the company would not renew its liability insurance if the district maintained its policy of allowing employees to carry guns on campus. 

After learning from Bill Cochran-Bray, the school insurance agent, that there were no viable alternatives for the school to move forward with the armed-staff policy remaining in place, the board decided to repeal the policy to become eligible for policy renewal with EMC.

During Thursday’s meeting, the board voted unanimously to rescind the armed-staff policy it had approved last fall. Staff had completed training and the policy had been in force since Feb. 15, according to a statement from the district. 

According to a written statement from Spirit Lake Superintendent David Smith, arming school employees is the best route to keeping students safe. 

“The district’s implemented solution was based on math, time and real statistical data demonstrating the sooner an active short is addressed, the more innocent lives are saved,” Smith’s statement read. “In my opinion, we had a plan that was second to none. I continue to ask this: In the horrific event we have an active shooter in our district, what would you want — a highly trained individual who is present, capable and willing to step in quickly between the bad guy and your child, or would you prefer to wait the minutes it will take for a dispatched responder to arrive? There is no data that school shootings are going away anytime soon.”

The district’s policy had come under fire from Spirit Lake Chief of Police Shane Brevik who sent a letter to the Spirit Lake School Board last year stating his disapproval of the plan. Elements of the policy were amended in November and incorporated suggestions from Brevik.

The school board made no mention of insurance coverage during its June 12 regular meeting, but it did send an email to district parents the same day, informing parents the school district was in the process of collecting quotes from insurers, and “as soon as quotes are received and reviewed, our agent will present a proposal and provide a difference-in-conditions report, which will be provided to the board for consideration at a special meeting,” the email stated.

During Thursday’s special meeting, where no public comment was allowed, Cochran-Bray updated the board with the search process. 

Working for future legislation

According to Cochran-Bray, his company, Central Insure, had reached out to 26 potential insurers for the district. As of June 1, the company had identified only “three viable options” for coverage, he said. Within the past week, those three potential insurers withdrew from consideration, citing a variety of reasons, including “firearm exposure” and “negativity from the media” regarding the armed-staff policy. 

Another factor in Spirit Lake’s inability to find insurance was the increased risk associated with a possible natural disaster since most of the district’s assets are located on the same property. 

As of Thursday, Cochran-Bray told board members, Central Insure had no options available to insure the district with the policy still in place.

Spirit Lake’s armed-staff policy was approved at the beginning of the 2023-24 school year and allows 10 non-teacher, non-bus drivers appointed by the superintendent to carry a district-issued gun on school property. 

According to the safety plan, armed individuals would undergo professional training, a background check, a mental health screening, a drug screening, and obtain a permit to carry. They’d also be required to sign a form associated with the liability of the position. 

Some of the costs associated with the plan included gun lockers, ammunition and membership to a gun range. 

Board President Teresa Beck said she was sad to see the armed-staff policy eliminated, and said she believes a majority of the community supported it. 

“We did all we could to make this happen, and I believe we have the support of the majority of our community,” Beck said Thursday. “I know we have it from teachers, parents and students. I am sad we can’t do it. We all feel like it’s the best thing to keep our kids safe, but I’m sorry we couldn’t get it done. We did our best, we gave it our all and so did our staff and I want to thank you all for that.”

A bill associated with armed school staff, House File 654, was considered by the Iowa House earlier this year, but it never was brought to a vote. The bill would have prohibited companies from denying insurance to schools based solely on the presence of a person authorized to carry a gun on school grounds. 

In April, Rep. John Wills, R-Spirit Lake, said lawmakers would advance legislation to help the school district to maintain coverage and maintain the armed-staff policy. Wills said that in the next legislative session, a bill will be “coming forward very quickly” to force EMC to insure schools with policies like Spirit Lake’s or lose government contracts, the Storm Lake Times Pilot reported.

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