Increased Risks and Costs of Arming Educators
Protecting schools from shootings is an ongoing focus in the K-12 sphere, and the conversation often includes whether to arm educators. Some schools already arm teachers pursuant to state, county, or school board authorization. Others are weighing benefits and dangers. Arming teachers or other staff can disrupt the educational atmosphere, even when the intention is to improve safety. When deciding whether to arm staff, schools should consider the following heightened costs, risks, and liability.
Costs of Arming Employees
Costs of arming educators include safety and training expenses beyond purchasing firearms. Specifically, schools may need to purchase:
- Biometric gun safes, which require fingerprints to unlock, so the guns are inaccessible to students and other unauthorized individuals
- Bulletproof vests for use by the armed staff
- Background checks and mental health screenings for all armed staff (at the time of initial selection and on a routine basis thereafter) to be sure they are qualified to hold the given position and to be carrying a firearm (Read United Educators’ (UE’s) article on background check fundamentals for more guidance.)
- Firearm licensing
- Insurance and other liability-related products and services (see below)
- Regular training for armed staff that covers weapons proficiency and concealed carry, including maintaining weapon security; firing accurately in high-stress situations, through regular target practice at gun ranges and active shooter scenario drills; use of force and legal considerations; and first aid. Annual or periodic re-training also may be necessary.
In addition to paying for training, schools may need to give armed staff members time off for training sessions or provide stipends or additional pay for their training hours.
Risks Associated With Arming School Staff
In active shooter situations, there are significant concerns about the ability of even well-trained marksmen to survey the scene and shoot accurately. Law enforcement personnel receive countless hours of emergency response preparation, but educators don't have time to undergo such extensive training. As a result, there is increased risk of an educator misidentifying the shooter or accidentally shooting a bystander or plainclothes first responder. Many fear that minority students may be at heightened risk of such misidentification due to implicit bias or racial stereotyping.
Additionally, engaging in a confrontation with an active shooter puts an armed educator at greater risk of death. For example, a shooter may have higher skills and more firepower, such as an assault weapon, than the educator, or a first responder may mistake the educator for the active shooter.
Aside from risks an active shooter situation presents, gun accidents are common nationwide, and firearms in a classroom pose a hazard. Studies have found that gun accidents arise primarily from weapons kept for self-defense, and children are often the victim of these accidents. If educators are armed, then curious, careless, or ill-intentioned students could accidentally or intentionally gain access to the firearms at school and cause serious harm to themselves or others.
Liability and Insurance Considerations
The potential liability for injuries or deaths resulting from an educator’s firearm is complicated. Depending on the situation (especially if the employee was not acting within the scope of employment), the educator may be personally liable in a lawsuit. In some cases, the school, school district, or school board may be responsible for claims brought against the educator.
Arming employees, especially security staff, may create a position of them being considered “police,” which could result in excessive force claims. Consult with legal counsel to determine how arming these employees will affect their status under state law. For additional information, read UE’s Excessive Force by Campus Security resource.
However, some states have broad immunity laws that restrict lawsuits against public employees, including teachers. Schools in those states may be more willing to accept the risk of injury or death that comes with arming school staff.
Insurance coverage of any legal fees and monetary damages or settlements will vary depending on the policy and circumstances. Arming educators is an emerging risk, and some insurance carriers will not insure armed educators, so schools should seek advice from their licensed insurance broker regarding liability coverage. UE members contemplating arming educators also should contact their UE underwriter to determine if coverage is available and other underwriting criteria is needed. Overall, if the practice of arming educators becomes common and more injuries result, it may significantly increase the cost of insuring schools.
Since local laws differ, before taking any steps to arm employees, consult legal counsel to understand the liability landscape and ensure compliance with state laws and local ordinances, including those mandating gun-free school zones. Counsel can also help schools update policies to address key issues, including:
- Requirements for when teachers are to leave the classroom or confront a shooter
- Whether employees may be armed at all school events or only during class time
- Protocols regarding the school’s use of force continuum
- Recordkeeping and responsibility for regular firearm inspections
School employees will need to meet all state licensing requirements for carrying a firearm, including any concealed carry licensing requirements in their state. The school will need to periodically reviews those licensing requirements to ensure the employees are properly licensed each year.
Schools also should carefully review, with input from legal counsel, any memorandum of understanding with the local police department with the eye toward how the agreement handles risk transfer for the actions of a police officer while on campus. Agreements between the school and any armed contractor on campus also should be carefully negotiated for appropriate risk transfer. UE's Checklist: A Guide for Reviewing Contracts can provide a good starting point when supplemented with legal counsel’s input.
Guidance from legal counsel and a licensed insurance broker, along with a careful review of all the risks and costs involved, will help schools make informed decisions about arming its educators.
More From UE
Checklist: Preventing and Preparing for School Shootings
Active Shooter Response Options and Training in K-12 Schools
Checklist: Physical Security for K-12 Schools
Secure Classroom Doors to Stop Active Shooters
Q&A With an Expert on Preventing School Shootings
National School Safety and Security Services: Arming Teachers and School Staff
About the Author
Christine McHugh, Esq.
Senior Risk Management Counsel
Christine’s areas of expertise include employment law, sexual assault prevention, protection of minors, traumatic brain injury, and diversity, equity, and inclusion. Before joining the Risk Research team, she handled UE liability claims for several years. She previously practiced employment and higher education law.