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Tamaqua rescinds policy to arm school employees

A new state law clarifying who may carry firearms in Pennsylvania’s schools prompted the Tamaqua Area School Board to rescind a controversial policy that sought to allow certain district employees to be armed at school.

The school board adopted the policy unanimously on Sept. 18, 2018, making the Schuylkill County district the first in the state to permit teachers, administrators, and other staff to be armed at school.

The Tamaqua Education Association filed a lawsuit later that fall to block the policy, arguing it violated the Pennsylvania School Code.

After Act 67 was signed into law in early July, the school board voted, again unanimously, to rescind the policy, which had been put on hold while the lawsuit was under way. The Tamaqua EA subsequently withdrew its lawsuit.

Act 67 amends the Pennsylvania School Code to establish stricter training requirements and clarify who may fill the role of an armed school police officer, school security guard, or school resource officer.

“This legislation removes any ambiguity about whether teachers may be designated as ‘security personnel,’” Gov. Tom Wolf said in a bill signing statement. “It clearly and plainly establishes that they may not. The students, parents, and educators in this commonwealth can now be secure in the knowledge that teachers can dedicate themselves to teaching our children, and that the security of school facilities rests in the hands of trained, professional security personnel.”

The Tamaqua policy would have created a new class of public school employees allowed to carry firearms and use deadly force while performing school duties as long as they underwent special training.

The Tamaqua Education Association maintained, even before Act 67 was enacted, that the district’s policy violated the School Code because the training fell well short of what is required by state law for armed school law enforcement officers.

“The Tamaqua 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,” Frank Wenzel, president of the Tamaqua Education Association, said when the lawsuit was filed. “Our top priority is always the safety of students and staff.”

A spokesman for the association said it made sense for the school board to re-examine its policy in light of Act 67, and said educators in the association are ready to work with the school board to help ensure the safest learning environment possible for students, consistent with the law.