Schools Seeking to Arm Employees Hit Hurdle on Insurance
As more schools consider arming their employees, some districts are encountering a daunting economic hurdle: insurance carriers threatening to raise their premiums or revoke coverage entirely.
During legislative sessions this year, seven states enacted laws permitting teachers or administrators to carry guns in schools. Three of the measures — in Kansas, South Dakota and Tennessee — took effect last week.
But already, EMC Insurance Companies, the liability insurance provider for about 90 percent of Kansas school districts, has sent a letter to its agents saying that schools permitting employees to carry concealed handguns would be declined coverage.
“We are making this underwriting decision simply to protect the financial security of our company,” the letter said.
In northeast Indiana, Douglas A. Harp, the sheriff of Noble County, offered to deputize teachers to carry handguns in their classrooms less than a week after 26 children and educators were killed in a school shooting in Newtown, Conn. A community member donated $27,000 in firearms to the effort. School officials from three districts seemed ready to sign off. But the plan fell apart after an insurer refused to provide workers’ compensation to schools with gun-carrying staff members.
The Oregon School Boards Association, which manages liability coverage for all but a handful of the state’s school districts, recently announced a new pricing structure that would make districts pay an extra $2,500 annual premium for every staff member carrying a weapon on the job.
Scott Whitman, an administrator at the Jackson County school district in southern Oregon, where a committee is looking at arming school staff members next year, said costs would be a factor in the decision. With 10 buildings, the expense of arming and training more than one staff member at each school would easily exceed $50,000 a year.
“Pretty much every last bit of our money is budgeted,” he said, adding, “To me, that could be quite an impediment to putting this forward.”
Increasing the number of firearms in classrooms across the country has been the cornerstone of the National Rifle Association’s response to the Newtown massacre and the legislative fights over proposed gun laws that followed it. In April, the gun-rights group released a report that called for armed police officers, security guards or staff members in every American school.
More than 30 state legislatures introduced bills that permit staff members to carry guns in public or private schools this year, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Supporters say training teachers to carry guns would better protect students and, if anything, should put insurance companies more at ease. But worries remain about who could be sued if a gun-related accident occurred on school property, giving way to business realities for some insurance providers, which include both commercial carriers and nonprofit cooperatives.
“Some are saying this is so high risk we’re not going to touch it,” said Kenneth S. Trump, the president of National School Safety and Security Services, which discourages districts from implementing concealed carry policies. “Others may say this is so high risk that you’re going to pay through the nose.”
Few districts in the nation currently allow teachers to carry firearms in K-12 schools; those that do are often in rural areas where it could take a while for first responders to arrive. It is still too soon to tell whether that number will rise as more states consider laws, as many administrators have started discussing the matter with parents and school lawyers only in the past six months.
Jenny Emery, head of the Association of Governmental Risk Pools, said none of her members plan to withhold coverage like EMC. But many are strongly recommending other security alternatives, she said, noting that cooperatives provide some form of risk financing to about 80 percent of public entities across the country.
“I haven’t seen evidence yet that suggests people are determining that arming teachers is a recommended way to manage risk,” she said. “Far from it.”
Still, insurers in some states said they were unsure how to approach the subject when the time comes.
Days after the new law took effect in Tennessee last week, the state’s largest K-12 insurance provider, Tennessee Risk Management Trust, had not reached a conclusion about whether the price of its coverage would increase if employees carried guns.
Firearm training rules for teachers in South Dakota, which passed its law in March, have not yet been approved, in part delaying serious talks between districts and their underwriters. “Because it’s not something the schools are considering, the issue really hasn’t become full blown yet,” said Wade Pogany, the executive director of the Associated School Boards of South Dakota. “I think it will eventually.”
After the Kansas law passed in April, more than a dozen school administrators across the state were mulling a move to arm their staffs, according to David Shriver, who oversees insurance programs at the Kansas Association of School Boards. He stopped getting calls about it as soon as EMC made its policy clear, he said.
“If there’s no insurance available,” he added, “it’s difficult to do anything.”
In an e-mail statement, Mick Lovell, vice president for business development at EMC, said the company, which is based in Des Moines, was upholding its long-held guidelines that school security should be provided only by qualified law enforcement officers
For three Kansas community colleges, which were insured by EMC but decided to allow concealed carry on their campuses under the new law, the search for another insurance provider was easier than expected.
Dan Barwick, the president of Independence Community College, said his college and two others recently signed a joint insurance plan with another company at a rate that he expected would save the group about $2 million over the next decade. Advocates for arming teachers point to the colleges as evidence that some insurance providers are willing to stomach the risk, should K-12 schools in Kansas decide to shop around
“What will happen is the market will take care of this,” said Forrest Knox, a Kansas state senator who helped pass the concealed carry legislation. “Other companies are going to do the dollars and cents.”
That theory is certainly true in states like Texas, where strong tort protections have made it easier for about 30 districts to arm their employees this year. Dubravka Romano, who oversees a cooperative that insures about half of the state’s 1,035 districts, said schools there were not charged extra for having guns on campus.
One such district, Harrold Independent, has switched insurance providers twice since it started arming employees in 2007, saving around $5,000 a year with each move.
David Thweatt, the superintendent, would not disclose how many armed employees patrol school hallways, but he said fears of increased liability were overblown. There have been no gun-related accidents or injuries at Harrold schools since the policy started, he said.
“The only time we’ve had to use a firearm,” he said, “was to shoot at a wild pig.”