Teach­ers can’t sue, Ta­maqua Area ar­gues

They don’t have right, it says in re­sponse to union law­suit over gun pol­icy.

The Morning Call - - LOCAL NEWS - By Kayla Dwyer

The Ta­maqua Area School District filed pre­lim­i­nary ob­jec­tions in court this week to a law­suit waged by its teach­ers’ union against the school’s new pol­icy al­low­ing staff to carry guns in school.

Pol­icy 705 passed unan­i­mously in Septem­ber, but it drew ire from the Ta­maqua Area Ed­u­ca­tion As­so­ci­a­tion, which filed a law­suit in Schuylkill County Court in Novem­ber, claim­ing the mea­sure is a vi­o­la­tion of the Penn­syl­va­nia School Code.

The school district, in its fil­ing, ques­tions this claim and ar­gues that the union does not have the le­gal stand­ing to sue, nor has it es­tab­lished the district com­mit­ted a “man­i­fest wrong.”

The Penn­syl­va­nia School Code al­lows trained law en­force­ment to carry firearms in school. The teach­ers’ law­suit al­leges that Ta­maqua’s Pol­icy 705, adopted Sept. 18, ig­nores “state law and al­lows school em­ploy­ees who do not have state-re­quired train­ing or ex­pe­ri­ence to carry and use firearms.”

The new pol­icy re­quires staff who vol­un­teer to par­tic­i­pate to re­ceive train­ing as out­lined by Act 235, the Lethal Weapons Train­ing Act.

But the Ed­u­ca­tion As­so­ci­a­tion says school re­source of­fi­cers re­ceive ex­tra train­ing that goes be­yond Act 235 — such as ac­tive shooter train­ing — that is not out­lined in the district’s gun pol­icy.

The district’s fil­ing claims this ex­tra train­ing — un­der the Mu­nic­i­pal Po­lice Ed­u­ca­tional and Train­ing Law, or Act 120 — does not ap­ply to the school district since it is not a mu­nic­i­pal­ity or higher ed­u­ca­tion in­sti­tu­tion.

De­spite this dis­tinc­tion, Chris Lilien­thal, as­sis­tant di­rec­tor of com­mu­ni­ca­tions with the Penn­syl­va­nia State Ed­u­ca­tion As­so­ci­a­tion, said the ex­tra train­ing is what par­ents and teach­ers have wanted.

“One big ques­tion we have is why the school board is fight­ing teach­ers and par­ents on this,” Lilien­thal stated in re­sponse to the pre­lim­i­nary ob­jec­tions.

Pri­mar­ily, the district is seek­ing to prove the union does not have le­gal stand­ing to file a law­suit.

The district’s first ob­jec­tion is to the union’s abil­ity to sue, claim­ing the union does not have stand­ing be­cause it can­not prove any of its mem­bers “are suf­fer­ing im­me­di­ate or threat­ened in­jury,” ac­cord­ing to the fil­ing.

Lilien­thal said the PSEA be­lieves teach­ers could be put in harm’s way if staff are armed with­out proper train­ing.

“A pol­icy to arm teach­ers in school will def­i­nitely have an im­pact on work­ing con­di­tions,” Lilien­thal said Fri­day.

The ob­jec­tion fil­ing also calls on the union to prove there is an “ac­tual jus­ti­fi­able con­tro­versy.”

Ques­tion­ing the le­gal suf­fi­ciency of the teach­ers’ law­suit, the district writes that there is no spe­cific state statute ei­ther al­low­ing or pre­vent­ing a mea­sure like Pol­icy 705, ar­gu­ing fur­ther that re­cent state statutes in­clude broad enough lan­guage to al­low such a pol­icy by a pub­lic school.

Penn­syl­va­nia law does not ex­pressly al­low con­cealed carry in pub­lic schools, but it of­fers a de­fense for a weapon “used in con­junc­tion with a law­ful su­per­vised school ac­tiv­ity or course or is pos­sessed for other law­ful pur­pose.”

Ta­maqua is the first district in the state to pass a pol­icy al­low­ing armed school staff as a way to de­fend schools against shoot­ers.

kd­[email protected] Twit­ter @kay­la_d­wyer17 610-820-6554

APRIL GAMIZ/ MORN­ING CALL FILE PHOTO

A crowds lis­tens to pre­sen­ta­tions dur­ing a meet­ing on Ta­maqua Area School District’s pol­icy that would au­tho­rize teach­ers and staff to carry guns in school. The pol­icy, which passed in Septem­ber, is the sub­ject of a law­suit.

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