School board backs dismissal over gun issue

The part-time monitor wanted to carry a weapon on campus in violation of the Medford district's policy

The Medford School Board ruled Tuesday to uphold the dismissal of a part-time campus monitor who was fired in May for defiantly wanting to carry a handgun at Hedrick Middle School.

Donald Later of Medford, a retired Jackson County sheriff's deputy, was dismissed on grounds of insubordination.

From the archive: Read stories from the 2007 case in which a teacher was denied a request to carry a handgun to a Medford school at www.mailtribune.com/gunsinschool

It is unclear whether Later actually brought a gun on campus, as he never showed it to anyone, said Superintendent Phil Long. But when Later's supervisor asked whether he was carrying a gun, he said yes, Long said.

The part-time employee had met with Long during spring break to ask that he be given permission to carry the concealed weapon. After reviewing School Board policies, Long denied the request, explaining the reasons for his decision in a two-page letter sent to Later's home.

District policy does not allow employees to carry weapons even with a concealed handgun license, with a few exceptions that did not apply to Later's work.

The employee then told his supervisor, Principal Dan Smith, that he still intended to carry the gun. He was placed on administrative leave and then fired.

When Later was hired on Jan. 7, he signed a form stating that he understood the district's policies and he agreed to abide by them.

Since he was a probationary employee, not a member of the union, he could have been fired without cause, but the school district wanted to take the time to review its long-standing policy, said Long.

After listening to Later's appeal and getting legal counsel from the district's attorney, six members of the Medford School Board attending the Tuesday hearing voted unanimously to uphold the dismissal. Tricia Prendergast was absent because of a previous commitment.

Since first meeting with Long, Later cited laws that allow retired law enforcement officers to carry concealed weapons with a permit and not be prosecuted.

A previous case involving the district in 2007 resulted in a Jackson County Circuit Court finding that Medford schools' policy forbidding employees from carrying guns was not subject to the state law that bars cities and other local governments from regulating guns.

South Medford High School teacher Shirley Katz appealed the decision and the case reached the Oregon Court of Appeals, where judges in 2009 affirmed the district's right.

Employees in violation of School Board Policy GBJ can be subject to discipline, and possibly fired and referred to law enforcement. The policy also prohibits district volunteers, contractors and their employees from possessing dangerous or deadly weapons or firearms on district property or at school-sponsored events.

One school board policy, JFCJ, permits weapons under the control of law enforcement personnel to be on campus.

The policy also allows the superintendent to authorize people other than law enforcement personnel to possess weapons for courses, programs and activities approved by the district and conducted on district property.

These would include hunter safety courses, weapons-related vocational courses or weapons-related sports.

Long said he has never authorized any courses requiring weapons during his eight years on the job.

District Work Rule No. 4 states that employees may not bring any firearm, ammunition, hunting and/or combat knife, explosives, incendiary device or other weapon onto district premises without consent of the superintendent.

Long has never authorized this.

"When it comes to someone responsible for our students' safety, we need to know they will follow direction and abide by our safety protocols," Long said Wednesday.

A campus monitor, who is paid about $10 to $11 an hour, supervises children as they enter and leave the school and during recesses. The job does not require someone to carry a weapon, said Long.

Attempts to reach Later by phone or at his home Wednesday were unsuccessful.

Reach reporter Janet Eastman at 541-776-4465andjeastman@dailytidings.com


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