A judge has denied the Medford School District's motion to dismiss a South Medford High School teacher's lawsuit challenging its policy against employees carrying concealed firearms on school grounds.
After hearing oral arguments on the case Thursday, Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Philip Arnold indicated he would issue a rare written opinion on whether the district's policy is legal but gave no time line for his decision.
English teacher Shirley Katz says she needs a weapon to defend against an ex-husband who she claims is violent and to protect students from intruders. Her attorney argues the Medford School District's policy is illegal because state law allows those who hold concealed handgun permits to carry weapons on school grounds.
The Medford School District believes it has a right to prohibit employees from carrying guns on campus in order to keep students and staff safe. Medford schools attorney Tim Gerking said the district's policy is not an ordinance, as it applies only to employees and does not affect the general public's ability to carry concealed firearms.
The ruling on English teacher Shirley Katz's claim that as a permit holder, she has a right to bring her concealed handgun to school could have repercussions for school districts across the state.
Katz said she wants to carry her 9 mm Glock semiautomatic pistol to guard against an ex-husband who she claims is violent and to protect students from intruders.
Gerry Katz, a commercial photographer, has denied he has acted violently toward his ex-wife and has said he's not a threat to her nor to others at South Medford. No assault charges have been listed against him in Jackson County court records.
State law allows people with permits to carry concealed firearms into schools and other public buildings, but most school districts in the state have passed policies forbidding employees from doing so.
Jim Leuenberger, Katz's attorney, argued the school district's policy is illegal, as state law voids any local civil or criminal ordinance restricting concealed firearm possession in public buildings.
"The school district does not have any authority to regulate whatsoever ... Ms. Katz's possession of a firearm," Leuenberger said.
Medford schools attorney Tim Gerking said the district's policy is not an ordinance, as it applies only to employees and does not affect the general public's ability to carry concealed firearms.
Gerking argued the state Legislature did not intend to bar public employers from regulating employees' possession of firearms on the job. Its true intent, he said, was to prevent gun owners from being treated unfairly because of conflicting local and state laws.
He said employees' possession of firearms could result in "accidents" at schools and in liability for the school district.
Shirley Katz sought guidance from Judge Arnold Thursday about whether she may carry her handgun to work while he considers her case.
Arnold said her decision to carry her gun on campus would not affect the outcome of her case.
It was unclear, however, whether the district may discipline her should she violate the policy before the judge's ruling. In papers filed with the court, the district said it would call police to search her if it had reason to believe she was armed.
Wearing a black suit, Katz would not say Thursday whether she plans to take her handgun to school before the judge's decision.
But she did say that it's "naive" to believe others aren't carrying guns on school campuses, and she's confident she'll win her case.
"Mr. Leuenberger did a wonderful job," she said. "I'm very pleased."
Arnold's opinion will be published on the court's Web site, www.ojd.state.or.us/jac/.
Reach reporter Paris Achen at 776-4459 or firstname.lastname@example.org.