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Teacher can't carry gun on campus

An English teacher who fought to carry her 9 mm Glock semiautomatic pistol to South Medford High School has lost her court challenge of a school district policy prohibiting employees from taking weapons on campus.

Jackson County Circuit Court Judge G. Philip Arnold issued a written opinion Friday that the Medford School District's policy is legal under state law.

"This is breaking new ground because it's clarifying the authority so many school districts have already exercised," said Medford schools Superintendent Phil Long. "I haven't had a chance to tell my colleagues in the state about the ruling, but I think the No. 1 response will be extreme relief."

Katz said Friday she plans to appeal the decision, and the Oregon Firearms Educational Foundation pledged to continue to finance her legal expenses.

"I'm shocked and extremely disappointed by his decision," Katz said.

In the high-profile case that spawned anxiety among public school officials across the state, Katz claimed the district's policy conflicted with astate law that prohibits local governments from enacting "civil or criminal ordinances" regulating or restricting firearms.

State law allows people with permits to carry concealed handguns into schools and other public buildings, but most school districts in the state have passed policies forbidding employees from doing so.

"In this case, it is clear the district's prohibition on weapons is contained in a school board employee policy, and is not an ordinance," Arnold wrote.

"The district policy applies to only employees and others working for the district. The policy is known to those persons in advance. They accept their jobs subject to, and knowing, the policy."

Katz said she wanted to carry her pistol to guard against an ex-husband who she claimed 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 or to others at South Medford. No assault charges have been listed against him in county court records.

About 10 students have transferred out of Katz's classes since the lawsuit was filed Sept. 18. District officials recently hired a substitute teacher to instruct them.

Katz would not say whether she has taken her handgun to school, but school officials said they had no evidence to indicate she had.

The Medford district and other districts around the state have been pressing state legislators for several years to pass a law that would ban everyone except law enforcement from carrying guns on school campuses. Past attempts by lawmakers have failed.

"We have regulations and resources in place to ensure a safe working environment for employees and a safe learning environment for students," said Tim Gerking, attorney for the Medford district. "We believe, and law enforcement agrees, that keeping guns out of school buildings is an essential part of our overall policy."

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 776-4459 or pachen@mailtribune.com.

South Medford High School sophomore Jacob Cowart skates down a walkway at the school Friday. A judge has ruled against Shirley Katz, an English teacher who fought for the right to carry her concealed handgun on campus. - Mail Tribune / Jim Craven