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Board asks for law on guns in schools

The Medford School Board passed a resolution Tuesday urging the state Legislature to enact a law clarifying school districts' authority to ban concealed handguns on school property except those carried by a police officer.

"It's possible we already have the legal authority to pass a policy on banning all guns on school property, but there is a doubt about that," said School Board Member Eric Dziura.

The board action came on the heels of a recent ruling by a Jackson County judge concluding that school districts have the authority to forbid school employees from carrying guns on campuses.

The decision was a response to a challenge by Shirley Katz, an English teacher at South Medford High School, of the Medford district's policy restricting employees' possession of guns at schools.

Medford district officials and some of their colleagues around the state said they want to prohibit all guns on campuses, but state law is unclear on the matter.

Jackson County Judge G. Philip Arnold's ruling pertained only to district employees. Katz said she plans to appeal Arnold's decision.

While guns are forbidden on airplanes and in courthouses, nothing in state law singles out schools as a gun-free zone. That means schools can't stop anyone with a concealed weapon permit, except school employees, from bringing a gun on a campus.

"Right now many people are absolutely amazed at some of the laws existing related to this," said School Board President Mike Moran. "I don't think we can have safe schools if we can't regulate firearms on school property."

By asking for authority to prohibit guns on campus rather than a blanket statewide ban on them, other school system would have a choice in the matter.

The Legislature is scheduled to convene for a special session in February. Some lawmakers, among them Sen. Ginny Burdick, D-Portland, and Sen. Alan Bates, D-Ashland, have said they want to propose such a law either in the special session or the regular 2009 session. Past attempts by Sen. Burdick to ban guns in schools have been defeated.

Medford schools Superintendent Phil Long said the resolution would be sent to local state representatives and senators, Senate President Peter Courtney, Speaker of the House Jeff Merkley and Gov. Ted Kulongoski.

"My question is even if we have the authority (to ban guns), how do we regulate it unless we have metal detectors?" asked Board Member Larry Nicholson.

By clarifying the law, school districts might be able to avoid lawsuits challenging their authority to ban weapons, Long said.

"It's important there is clarity and that it be statutory clarity rather than something that's settled in the courts," Long said.

He said he expected other school boards in the state to follow Medford's lead in passing a resolution asking for the authority to ban guns.

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 541-776-4459 or pachen@mailtribune.com.