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The practice of arming teachers in response to the threat of a school shooting has implications for workers compensation and workplace safety, but the insurance industry is generally still covering the exposure, according to experts.
The risk is there as the training for teachers to carry is often overlooked when it comes to tallying injury risk alone, said Nick Subashi, a senior partner with Dayton, Ohio-based Subashi & Wildermuth, whose firm represents districts in a state that permits teachers to carry concealed weapons and to train in tactical defense.
“As lawyers who represent school districts, we look for where things can go wrong,” he said.
The Northwestern Area 56-7 school district in Mellette, South Dakota, doesn’t approve all applicants, said Superintendent Ryan Bruns.
He declined to say how many teachers were armed in Mellette’s schools but said state law requires they have concealed carry permits prior to applying and not everybody is approved to carry on campus. That’s the first step in mitigating risk of injury or accidents, he said.
“We look at whether or not they are experienced or knowledgeable (with guns); a background in military make better candidates,” Mr. Bruns said. Those with more experience are less likely to injure themselves, he added.
Like in South Dakota, Ohio teachers with concealed carry permits can apply to carry their weapons at school if their district’s board approves a request to do so. If a school board approves an application to carry on campus, both states require additional training.
Those who are accepted in South Dakota attend 80 hours of training at the police academy in Pierre, according to Mr. Bruns.
In Ohio, it’s a three-day course for those trained with FASTER Saves Lives, a program put in place after the school shooting in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, in 2012, said Dean Rieck, Columbus, Ohio-based executive director for the Buckeye Firearms Association and Foundation, which supports the program.
The training is not unlike that undergone by police officers preparing for an event with an active shooter, yet it “does not try to turn teachers into police officers,” said Mr. Rieck.
The training is “tactical,” he said, explaining that the program doesn’t just focus on firing a weapon — those who are accepted by school boards in Ohio have proven to be well-versed in firearms, he said. Instead, the workshops focus on what to do in an active shooter situation when one is armed for protection. “There’s a right way and a wrong way to go around a corner; a right way and a wrong way to enter a room” in an active-shooter incident, he said.
The expectation may be that the workers compensation risk lies in a teacher hurting themselves with a gun in school, but some experts say it is the rigorous training itself or the coming-and-going approach to training that presents a hurdle.
“We have to be really careful with the course and scope of employment,” said Mr. Subashi, of the premise that training with weapons is not part of a teacher’s normal duties during regular school hours, nor is it likely to be in a teacher’s job description. “These are gray areas.”
A spokesman for Ohio’s Bureau of Workers Compensation, which runs the comp insurance program for the state, told Business Insurance it’s likely a teacher volunteering to train in weapons handling would be covered in the event of an injury.
Meanwhile, it could be argued both ways and would depend on the state the teacher works in: If it’s voluntary participation in weapons training, injuries might be not covered, said Carin Burford, a Birmingham, Alabama-based shareholder with Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart P.C. who also teaches workers compensation law at the University of Alabama School of Law in Tuscaloosa.
“If it’s encouraged by the employer, and yet it’s voluntary, it could be covered,” she said.
“Yet, there are more questions than answers.” Injuries likely would not be uncommon, experts say, especially given the injuries suffered by law enforcement engaging in similar, rigorous training. “Everything that can happen to teachers in training has happened to law enforcement,” said Mr. Subashi.
Experts say the issue has not been a concern.
“The exposure of tactical training with teachers is something we would have to look into deeper,” said David Perez, Boston-based executive vice president of national insurance specialty for Liberty Mutual Insurance Co.
Insuring a district that allows teachers to carry concealed weapons is an exposure written “like anything else,” he said.
“There have to be certain qualifiers for us to write the risk,” said Mr. Perez, adding that the accidental discharge of a weapon is the risk the industry is most concerned with.
“This is certainly something we are going to look out for,” said Susan Kostro, Boston-based chief underwriting officer at Liberty Mutual, of the risk in teachers getting injured during training.
At least one insurer, Des Moines, Iowa-based EMC Insurance Cos., told schools in Kansas, when state lawmakers approved concealed weapons on campus, that it would not insure such schools because of a “heightened liability risk,” according to a 2013 letter to its Kansas agents. A spokeswoman with EMC did not return calls for comment.
But most insurers are covering the risk, said Scott Wightman, St. Louis-based area executive vice president at Arthur J. Gallagher & Co.
“We haven’t heard any (workers comp) industry pushback on teachers going into this training,” he said. “But if we start to have claims, then obviously that could change.” Meanwhile, those whose districts permit teachers to be armed say the risk of injury during training hasn’t derailed safety programs.
And 90 miles north of Dallas, where the Callisburg Independent School District permits concealed weapons on campus by qualified individuals, insurance “hasn’t been an issue,” said Superintendent Steve Clugston.
There is no official tally of how many schools permit their teachers to carry concealed weapons or have access to weapons on campus in the event of an emergency.