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Plan to arm Tamaqua school employees on hold

Tamaqua Area School District’s policy allowing employees to carry and use firearms in a crisis situation is on hold while legal challenges from teachers and parents in the district are considered.

The Tamaqua Area Education Association filed a lawsuit in November to block the school board policy on the grounds that it violates the Pennsylvania School Code. That law permits certain law enforcement personnel, such as school police officers or school resource officers, to carry firearms in school as long as those officers complete specific law enforcement training.

The policy in the Schuylkill County school district would create a new class of public school employees allowed to carry firearms in school without the training or experience required by state law, the lawsuit alleges.

“As teachers, counselors, and other education professionals, we are trained to provide a high-quality education to our students, not to carry or use firearms in a dangerous situation,” said Frank Wenzel, president of the Tamaqua Area Education Association. “This is a bad policy for a lot of reasons, but we are challenging it in court because we believe it is illegal.”

In January, the Tamaqua Citizens for Safe Schools, a group of parents and other community members, filed a separate lawsuit to stop the policy. Both cases are pending in Schuylkill County Court of Common Pleas.

The Tamaqua Area School Board unanimously adopted Policy 705 in September without any hearings.

More than 100 people, including students, teachers, and parents, packed a subsequent school board meeting to speak out against the policy. Many urged the board to find alternatives to arming employees, such as better screening of visitors, infrastructure changes, shooter detection systems, and investments in mental health support and threat assessments.

In early January, the board voted 6-1 to put the policy on hold until the litigation is resolved.

The Tamaqua Area Education Association’s lawsuit asks the court to declare that the school board exceeded its authority by adopting a policy that conflicts with the state School Code and other laws and unlawfully permits school employees “to carry firearms and use deadly force without the training and experience required by the General Assembly.”

“We agree with parents and the school district that student safety is paramount,” Wenzel said. “There are many lawful steps the district can take to help ensure our students are protected from an active shooter and other threats.

“The Tamaqua Area Education Association does not object to the presence of firearms at school to protect students, but only a properly trained school police officer or law enforcement officer should carry a gun on school property. Our top priority is always the safety of students and staff.”