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POTTSVILLE (November 14, 2018) – A policy permitting Tamaqua school employees to carry firearms in school violates the Pennsylvania School Code and other laws limiting the use of firearms by public employees, according to a lawsuit filed today by the Tamaqua Education Association.
The lawsuit, filed in the Schuylkill County Court of Common Pleas, comes one week after more than 100 people, including students and parents, packed a Tamaqua Area School Board meeting to speak out against the policy.
“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 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.
“Pennsylvania law is very specific. It allows certain law enforcement personnel, such as a school police officer or a school resource officer, to carry firearms in school — all of whom must either complete training under the Municipal Police Education and Training Law or be State Police Academy graduates.
“The district’s policy ignores state law and allows school employees who do not have state-required training or experience to carry and use firearms. We must follow the law to ensure students and staff remain safe. That is our top priority.”
On Sept. 18, the Tamaqua Area School Board enacted a policy authorizing administrators, teachers, or other district staff who undergo special training to carry firearms and use deadly force while performing school duties.
The lawsuit asks the court to declare that the school board exceeded its authority by adopting a policy that conflicts with the 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.”
At a Nov. 7 school board meeting, parents and community members in the district laid out extensive alternatives to the policy, including better screening of visitors, infrastructure changes, shooter detection systems, and investments in mental health support and threat assessments.
“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 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.”
The Tamaqua Education Association is an affiliate of the Pennsylvania State Education Association.