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Law letting schools ban concealed weapons lightly used

SB 554, passed in Sept. 2021, allows districts to prohibit concealed handguns in and around schools, but few have acted on it
In this Nov. 7, 2020 file photo, a man holds a gun as he stands in front of the Oregon Capitol building in Salem. In September 2021, the Legislature passed SB 554, which allowed school districts to decide whether people with concealed handgun licenses can bring guns onto school property. (Marcio Jose Sanchez, File, AP)

Oregon lawmakers last year gave every public school district in Oregon the option to ban all guns from their premises — including those carried by concealed handgun license holders — but so far none of the school boards in Jackson County have acted on it.

The Mail Tribune asked board members, superintendents and other officials from each district what their districts intended to do in light of Senate Bill 554, which gives public entities, including school boards, the ability to ban all guns. Violation could result in a year in jail, a $6,250 fine, or both.

After review of its own policy governing personal conduct on school property, officials with the Medford School District said they did not believe its policy needed to be amended in light of the new law.

“We feel like our policy is very clear, that weapons are not allowed on campus,” said Natalie Hurd, communications and community engagement director of the Medford School District. “We feel very strongly about that — weapons are not tolerated on the Medford School District campuses, and if we become aware of a weapon on property, we handle the situation urgently and carefully.”

A recent analysis by the Oregon Public Broadcasting showed just 13% of the state’s school districts had voted to ban CHL holders from bringing a weapon on school property since SB 554 went into effect.

Two others, West Linn and Portland, joined that small list within the last two weeks. West Linn approved policy KGGB, extending the district's firearms ban to include visitors on school grounds, even those with concealed weapon permits. Portland, meanwhile, voted to “uphold” the district’s current ban of weapons on school grounds and “further restrict” anyone with a concealed firearm license from carrying a gun anywhere on district property.

As for why Jackson County school districts have not acted on the new law, answers officials have given vary, but many of them cited existing policy, including one that says “no person” shall “bring, possess or use a weapon as prohibited by state and federal law” on school property, including the parking lot. Many iterations by each Jackson County school district of that policy include the word “concealed” in that prohibition of weapons, but Phoenix-Talent, Rogue River and Medford policies do not.

One of SB 554’s sponsors, Sen. Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene, said school districts “must take affirmative action” to prohibit concealed handgun license holders from carrying a weapon on school campuses, because current state law does not prohibit those holders from carrying concealed on school property.

“SB 554 did not outright prohibit CHL holders from doing so. It’s a decision to be made at the local level by each school district,” the senator wrote in an email to the newspaper.

Rogue River School District

The district does not allow anyone to bring, possess or use a weapon on school property, including its parking lots.

School board Chairman Bruce Sund could not be reached for comment, despite multiple attempts. Superintendent Patrick Lee said via email, “I am not aware of the board seeking to make any changes to our weapons policy at this time.”

Lee made the board aware several months ago about a “sample policy” the Oregon School Board Association has on banning concealed weapons.

“At that time, there was no interest in changing our board policy on this,” Lee wrote in an email. “We have not had the opportunity to readdress the issue since the shooting in Texas, so I don’t know if those events have changed sentiment.”

Phoenix-Talent School District

The district has policies going back to 1993 on weapons that cover students, employees and district property, according to board policies found online.

The policies state that students “shall not … conceal or use a weapon on or at district property,” and it says the same about employees, district contractors and/or their employees and district volunteers. The adult policy is even more explicit, saying, “those who may otherwise be permitted by law to carry such weapons” are not allowed to.

Board Chair Dawn Watson said the board is currently re-examining safety protocols, which have already been beefed up thanks to a bond measure passed by the voters a few years ago.

“That’s what we’ve been discussing. The questions you’re asking, I don’t have an answer for because we have not discussed them as a board,” Watson said. “We do (examine policies) by letter (in which they’re categorized) and we’re not at those policies yet. I’m sure we’ll eventually review (the weapons policy).”

Eagle Point School District

The district prohibits people from bringing or using weapons, including concealed ones, on school property.

Superintendent Andy Kovach had no comment about policies regarding concealed weapons in light of SB 554, and a spokesperson referred the newspaper’s inquiry to Eagle Point School Board Chair Emily McIntire.

She said a lot of her members have “thought about” safety since the shooting at Robb Elementary, and after graduation and other festivities, “we probably will” be revisiting policies.

“Our kids and being safe in schools — it really should be an inalienable right,” McIntire said, adding that most of the district’s schools already have a single point of entry, except the high school. “The policy is listed; it covers bases in our best effort to protect kids against an attack.”

Speaking for herself, McIntire — who is running for a seat in the Oregon House of Representatives — said she believes those licensed to carry a concealed handgun should be able to do so on school property.

“I personally don’t believe concealed carry would be an issue — most people have followed the law to become that way,” McIntire said. “Most people … that come on (school property) with malicious intent — to cause harm — are not people that follow the law. So I see that truly as only a positive for a school and a school district to have concealed carry in our day and age.”

She noted that she’s heard of people who don’t bring their concealed weapons onto Eagle Point grounds out of respect for the policy.

Central Point School District

The district prohibits people from bringing or using weapons, including concealed ones, on school property and says students cannot bring them, either.

Members of the school board for Central Point School District 6 referred all questions to Superintendent Walt Davenport, who said what happened in Uvalde has caused the district to “think about potential actions” that can be taken to protect students.

“While policy most certainly has a role to play in maintaining order and safety, I think the debate on the impact of having more or less policy on gun possession on school grounds will arguably be a highly debated topic with many viewpoints,” Davenport wrote. “With that said, we will always remain open to reviewing our policies with care and attention to school safety, state and federal law, and individual rights.”

Ashland School Board

The district has two policies, one prohibiting students from concealed carry of a firearm and other pertaining to all people on school grounds, including parking lot areas.

Victor Chang, a member of the Ashland School Board, said a review of weapons policies got lost in the shuffle of other priorities, but the Uvalde tragedy would be a good reason to initiate a discussion on them.

“Everything else going on, it really didn’t cross our radar, policy-wise, through the school year,” Chang said. “Then, certainly, with some of the most recent really tragic shootings, it’s on our radar now. It hasn’t been brought (up) as a policy recommendation, but I’m sure it’s going to come before us pretty soon.”

Chang declined to comment about how he would vote on such a measure.

Butte Falls

Butte Falls Charter School has no current policy on staff or visitors carrying concealed weapons, but students cannot. In fact, the school has expelled students for bringing weapons in the past, according to Katie Misfeldt, chair of the school board.

“Policies that will require more discussion by the board like concealed carry were saved for a later date,” she wrote in an email. “In a rural community this topic is one that community members have strong opinions about.”

The board started reviewing safety policies even before what happened in Uvalde, Misfeldt said, adding, “We haven’t actually gotten to the school grounds policies yet, but that is a conversation we are going to be having.”

She noted that the board discussed whether concealed carry should apply to board meetings, which are held on campus but outside business hours.

“When we’ve had police officers in town, we’ve been able to have them show up at school board meetings where there were tense topics,” Misfeldt said. “I guess there’s just a couple board members that feel adamant that if we don’t have police present, they’d feel better if somebody did have an option to have a weapon on them.”

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that the Ashland School District does have policies regarding concealed carry of firearms. The district’s school board discussed this issue at its July 11 meeting and the Mail Tribune will have more information when it is available.

Reach reporter Kevin Opsahl at 541-776-4476 or kopsahl@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @KevJourno.