Plans to Arm Teachers Hit Insurance Hurdles

After the shootings at Connecticut’s Sandy Hook Elementary School last year, a number of districts adopted policies that would allow teachers and other employees to carry handguns on school campus. However, according to Steven Yaccino of The New York Times, in some places these plans seems to have run aground because insurers have outright refused to cover or have threatened to raise premiums on districts that allow armed adults on school grounds.

After a measure that allowed teachers and administrators to carry guns in school went into effect in Kansas, EMC Insurance Companies – which underwrites the liability insurance for 90% of districts in the state – sent out a letter to its agents telling them to deny coverage to any school that takes advantage of the new law. According to the letter, the company feels that covering such schools would be too much of a financial risk.

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.

Administrators at the Jackson County school district in Oregon calculated that it would cost them more than $50,000 a year to train and arm more than employee at each of the 10 schools under the district’s control. Scott Whitman, one of the Jackson County administrators, said after financial analysis that he wasn’t sure how the district would be able to afford to go forward with the plan because the district didn’t have room in the budget to cover such an expense.

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.”

However, at least in some parts of the country, finding insurers willing to assume the risk should be easy. In Texas, where tort reform has made high insurance payouts extremely unlikely, administrators were able to arm teachers in 30 schools around the state without either losing their insurance coverage or getting stuck with higher premiums.