Shawnee Mission testifies against bill that could incentivize districts to allow arming teachers

Assistant Superintendent Rick Atha, seen above in a file photo, testified against the measure that would create a special endorsement that would allow teachers to carry concealed weapons in schools.

The Shawnee Mission School District joined the ranks of Kansas citizens and organizations speaking out against a bill that could add burdens to districts that do not allow their teachers to carry guns at school.

In written testimony provided to the board of education Monday, Rick Atha, the district’s Assistant Superintendent for Instructional Support, said the district has spent considerable time, effort and resources implementing a school security plan following its 2015 bond issue. That plan included fortifying school buildings and improving surveillance and communication technology.

“In the Shawnee Mission School District, we’ve designed and implemented a state-of-the-art security plan. We did this without the threat of a statute asserting negligence, without arming staff, and without statewide standards and plans,” Atha wrote.

Atha said the district specifically opposed a provision in House Bill 2789, the SAFEER Act, that would create a special endorsement to a license that would allow staff to carry a concealed weapon in school buildings.

Additionally, Shawnee Mission is against a portion of the bill that could “punish school districts with enhanced financial burdens if they fail to arm teachers,” Atha wrote. The section of the bill in question says that if a school shooting were to occur, there “shall be a rebuttable presumption of negligence on the part of such school district when it is shown by evidence that such school district did not authorize any employee of such school district, other than school security officers, to carry concealed handguns in buildings operated by such school district.”

Though it is currently legal for school districts in the United States to allow armed teachers, insurance companies charge steep premiums for districts that have teachers carrying weapons, one of the factors that’s led most districts not to follow that path. In addition to the provisions listed above, the Kansas bill would prevent insurers from charging “unfair” premiums to district that allow teachers to carry concealed weapons.

In his written testimony, Atha said Shawnee Mission was worried that having teachers with guns in the classroom increased the likelihood of a gun getting into the wrong hands.

“One of our board members provided the best summary when saying, ‘Putting more guns in schools means creating more opportunities for students to access those guns. We have trained police officers in our schools who know how to deal with potentially dangerous situations. They are the only ones who should have access to lethal weapons,'” Atha wrote.

The district joins The Kansas Association of School Boards and the United School Administrators of Kansas in formally opposing the bill.

Overland Park Rep. Brett Parker, a teacher in the Olathe School District, spent the weekend organizing opposition to the bill, which was granted a hearing despite not having gone through the standard committee process. An online petition he started has picked up the signatures of 6,000 people who oppose the bill.

Atha’s full written testimony is below:

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