Insurance Companies May Get the Last Say Regarding Arming Teachers

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Three months after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, and just days after the Santa Fe High School shooting, the debate continues to rage over whether the presence of armed teachers and/or officers would increase school safety, or just increase the risk of a shooting.

The idea’s not new – arming teachers was the subject of serious debate after the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre, but the idea was quickly shut down in most areas by insurers.  Now, the spotlight is on it again.  Attempts to implement any such policies have stalled.  While the idea of guns in schools is hotly debated in politics and society, there is perhaps another, separate barrier for proponents:  the cost of insurance.

Research backs a positive correlation between the number of guns and the number of gun deaths.  And when insurers evaluate the use of armed officers, they usually determine that the risks outweigh the benefits, and increase chances someone will be seriously hurt or killed.  For example, after Kansas pushed to arm teachers in 2012, EMC Insurance Companies, which provides coverage to more than 85 percent of Kansas’ school districts, put out an agency service bulletin in May, 2013, which said:

“Recently enacted Kansas legislation allows for schools, subject to certain conditions, to permit teachers, administrators, and other school employees, with concealed handgun permits, to carry such handguns on school premises.  That decision is the prerogative of the individual school’s governing body.

“EMC cares deeply about the safety and well-being of our school children and we respect the choice of each school district to ensure the safety of their children as they see fit.  EMC has concluded the concealed handguns on school premises pose a heightened liability risk.  Because of this increased risk, we have chosen not to insure schools that allow employees to carry concealed handguns.  Schools permitting concealed handguns will be declined, as new business.  Existing schools permitting concealed handguns will not be renewed.  We are making this underwriting decision simply to protect the financial security of our company.”

As a result of EMC’s swift pushback, five years later, no Kansas school employee has legally brought a gun onto a public K-12 campus despite the law’s passage.  In Indiana, workers compensation insurers refused to cover personnel who brought guns onto campuses.  A major liability insurer in Oregon said it would make districts pay an extra $2,500 annual premium for each staff member allowed to bring firearms to school.

After the Parkland, Florida school shooting on February 14, and the shooting at Santa Fe High School in Texas on May 18, the debates have been renewed in many states.  For example, committees in the Florida Legislature approved a $67 million “school marshal” program to train and arm teachers and give them bonuses at districts’ discretion.  In Kansas, state lawmakers are pushing a proposal that would make schools liable if they didn’t arm teachers.  To overcome the insurance hurdle, the proposal would also make it so insurance companies could not pull coverage.  One Kansas state senator expressed a concern that, as a result, insurers might leave the state and “legislators, who [don’t] know anything about insurance, are making rules that won’t work.”

Some districts have already implemented the idea.  At least 10 states already allow staff members to possess or have access to a firearm on school grounds.  In rural Sidney, Ohio, firearms are held in biometric safes with bulletproof vests nearby.  An insurance policy of $100,000 a year includes coverage for its armed staff, however the superintendent indicated the “insurance rates went up astronomically [the] first year” before going back down.  The Callisburg Independent School District, 90 miles north of Dallas, implemented a “guardian” program four years ago.  The district reported that its insurance premiums did not change, likely because there was no large police presence close by.  Other Texas districts have been arming teachers for over a decade.  Still, the Callisburg district’s superintendent acknowledged that arming teachers would not be realistic for every school district.  As the debates regarding arming teachers renew, even if legislation arming teachers passes, the high cost of insurance may still prove insurmountable to actual implementation in many areas.