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  • Students weigh in on gun issue

    Some South Medford students fear they could be caught in a domestic crossfire
  • For some South Medford High School students, the news that English teacher Shirley Katz is "Jane Doe" in a lawsuit asserting her right to carry a gun on campus came as a surprise.
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  • For some South Medford High School students, the news that English teacher Shirley Katz is "Jane Doe" in a lawsuit asserting her right to carry a gun on campus came as a surprise.
    But some of her pupils said they have had a hunch for weeks that Katz was the anonymous plaintiff in the case challenging the Medford School Board's policy prohibiting employees from carrying concealed weapons on school grounds. The case has drawn national attention and become a rallying point for gun rights activists.
    "I wasn't surprised," said sophomore Ryan Robinson, who is in Katz's English class. "She seemed like the teacher. She has had a lot of substitutes in her class."
    Katz has said she has the right to bring her concealed handgun to school to defend herself from her violent ex-husband, Gerry Katz. Gerry Katz has denied he has ever acted violently toward her, and no assault charges were listed against him in Jackson County court records.
    "I think she should be able to have the gun to protect herself and the students in case he did come to school," said sophomore Amanda Mena, who is in Shirley Katz's class.
    Sophomore Derek Cline disagreed.
    "I don't think teachers should be able to carry guns," Derek said. "If she has a personal issue and she thinks she is going to be attacked, she shouldn't get students in the way."
    "Getting caught in the crossfire would not be cool," added sophomore Aya Underwood.
    The case could clear up an ambiguity in state law about schools' authority to forbid employees from doing what the public is allowed.
    Under state law, permit holders may carry concealed weapons on public school campuses, but most districts have passed policies restricting employees from doing so.
    Her lawsuit asserted that state law nullifies the school board policy.
    Medford district officials argued they have the right to set rules for employment to help keep staff and students safe.
    "What if a student beat her up and took the gun off of her?" said sophomore Cary Jordahl.
    Katz revealed her identity over the radio Tuesday on the Portland-based "Lars Larson Show" because she said Medford School District officials would name her in court documents.
    Court documents obtained on Wednesday showed no mention of her name. Medford schools attorney Tim Gerking said the district had sought last week to strike Katz's complaint in court, arguing that the law precludes a plaintiff from suing under a fictitious name.
    Katz, whose suit is funded primarily by the Oregon Firearms Educational Foundation, has said that teachers carrying concealed weapons could increase safety at campuses by helping to ward off attacks like those at Virginia Tech University in April and at an Amish school in Nickel Mines, Pa., in 2006.
    But even for some gun rights supporters such as Dawn Mena, mother of South student Amanda Mena, the question of guns on campus is not so easily answered.
    "We are National Rifle Association members and support everyone's right to have a firearm and even carry a concealed weapon if they have a license," Dawn Mena said, "but as parents it makes us nervous that if Ms. Katz's ex-husband is that dangerous he might go to the school and cause a confrontation.
    "With all school shootings you can never anticipate what's going to happen. If more teachers had guns, it might have brought a quicker resolution to those crises. It's hard to know what's best."
    Dave Lefkowitz, a South Medford social studies teacher, said he plans to use the case in his debate classes.
    "I just think it's a great example of a clash in fundamental rights under the Constitution, and it's going to be a great teaching opportunity," he said. "It's a clash between the Second Amendment, the Fourth Amendment and the 14th Amendment. Where the balance is going to be struck, who knows? It's a case that could go to the U.S. Supreme Court."
    A hearing on the case is set for 2 p.m. Oct. 11 in Jackson County Circuit Court.
    Reach reporter Paris Achen at 541-776-4459 or pachen@mailtribune.com.
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