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    July 2018

    Increased Risks and Costs of Arming Educators

    Recent school shootings have renewed the conversation about arming K-12 educators. Some schools have armed teachers in place as authorized by the state, county, or school board. Others are weighing the benefits and dangers.

    Arming teachers or other staff can disrupt the educational atmosphere, even when the intention is to improve safety. When deciding whether to arm staff, schools should consider the following heightened costs, risks, and liability. 


    Costs of Arming Employees

    The costs of arming educators include additional safety and training expenses beyond purchasing firearms. Specifically, schools may need to purchase:

    • Biometric gun safes, which require fingerprints to unlock, so the guns are inaccessible to students and other unauthorized individuals
    • Bulletproof vests for use by the armed staff
    • Background checks and mental health screenings for all armed staff (at the time of initial selection and on a routine basis thereafter)
    • Firearm licensing
    • Insurance and other liability-related products and services (see below)
    • Regular training for armed staff
      • The National Association of School Resource Officers (NASRO) suggests regular training for armed staff in:
        • Weapons proficiency and concealed carry, including maintaining weapon security
        • Firing accurately in high-stress situations, including regular target practice at gun ranges and active shooter scenario drills
        • Use of force and legal considerations
        • First aid

    In addition to paying for training, schools may need to give armed staff members time off to complete it or provide stipends or additional pay for their training hours.


    Risks Associated With Arming School Staff 

    In active shooter situations, there are significant concerns about the ability of even well-trained marksmen to survey the scene and shoot accurately. Law enforcement personnel receive countless hours of emergency response preparation, but educators do not have time to undergo such extensive training. As a result, there is increased risk of an educator misidentifying the shooter or accidentally shooting an innocent bystander or plainclothes first responder. Many fear that minority students will be frequent victims of this misidentification due to implicit bias or racial stereotyping.

    Additionally, engaging in a confrontation with an active shooter puts an armed educator at greater risk of death. For example, a shooter may have higher skills and more firepower, such as an assault weapon, than the educator, or a first responder may mistake the educator for the active shooter. 

    Aside from the risks presented by an active shooter situation, gun accidents are common in the United States, and firearms in a classroom pose a hazard. Studies have found that gun accidents arise primarily from weapons kept for self-defense. In 2015, over 13,000 children under age 20 were accidentally injured by firearms. Curious, careless, or ill-intentioned students could accidentally or intentionally gain access to the firearms at school and cause serious harm to themselves or others.  


    Liability and Insurance Considerations

    The potential liability for injuries or deaths resulting from an educator’s firearm is complicated. Depending on the situation (especially if the employee was not acting within the scope of employment), the educator may be personally liable in a lawsuit. In some cases, the school, school district, or school board employer may be responsible for claims brought against the educator. Some states have broad immunity laws that restrict lawsuits against public employees, including teachers. Schools in those states may be more willing to accept the risk of injury or death that comes with arming school staff.  

    Insurance coverage of any legal fees and monetary damages or settlements will vary depending on the policy and circumstances. Arming educators is an emerging risk, and some insurance carriers will not insure armed educators, so schools should seek advice from their licensed insurance broker regarding liability coverage. Any United Educators (UE) members contemplating arming educators should also contact their UE underwriter to determine if coverage is available and other underwriting criteria is needed. Overall, if the practice of arming educators becomes common and more injuries result, it may significantly increase the cost of insuring educational institutions.

    Since local laws differ, before taking any steps to arm employees, schools should consult legal counsel to understand the liability landscape and ensure compliance with state laws and local ordinances, including those mandating gun-free school zones. Counsel will also be able to assist schools in updating their policies to address key issues, including:

    • Requirements for when teachers are to leave the classroom or confront a shooter
    • Whether employees may be armed at all school events or only during class time
    • Protocols regarding the school’s use of force continuum
    • Recordkeeping and responsibility for regular firearm inspections

    Guidance from legal counsel and a licensed insurance broker, along with a careful review of all the risks and costs involved, will help the school make an informed decision about arming its educators.


    Resources

    Preventable Claims: Excessive Use of Force by Campus Police

    Webinar: Q&A With an Expert on Preventing School Shootings

    Press Release: NASRO expands upon recommendation on arming teachers

    National School Safety and Security Services: Arming Teachers and School Staff: Implementation Issues Present School Boards and Administrators with Significant Responsibility and Potential Liability


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