Written by The Business Journal Staff
This week, Kingsburg Joint Union High School District (KJUHSD) could become the Valley’s first school district to allow staff to carry concealed firearms on campus, potentially setting a path for other districts to follow.
The KJUHSD board of trustees is scheduled to have a second reading of the proposed policy tonight, after which the body is allowed to vote to adopt the new standard, said Superintendent Randy Morris.
“If passed, it could go into effect immediately but we really don’t have a timeline for it at the moment,” he said. “The goal is to get the policy in place so we have that option going forward.”
The five-member board has previously shown support for the policy, and Morris said he expects the proposal to be approved after the second reading.
While there were no public comments during the policy’s first reading last month, Morris said he has since heard from hundreds of community members expressing a variety of views on the topic. He has also heard from many fellow school districts in the region that are “curious” about what Kingsburg is proposing.
“I’ve heard a lot from people both on the positive and negative side of the idea, but it’s important to us not to get caught up in the political side of the Second Amendment aspect to it,” Morris said. “The overall goal of the policy is for the protection of our students.”
The new policy would allow the superintendent to allow up to five district employees with written permission to possess firearms and ammunition on school grounds, thereby qualifying as an exception to Senate Bill 707.
The law was passed last fall and bans guns on school grounds unless specifically approved by school superintendents.
That exception has left school districts with major questions about what the change means for them and their security policies, said Derek Morrison, director of client services at Fresno-based law firm Lozano Smith.
“We work with hundreds of school districts up and down the state and a number of them have reached out with questions over this,” he said.
To help address the issue, Lozano Smith began hosting workshops this spring for client school districts. So far the firm has held two events, one in Fresno and one in Tulare.
Dozens of South Valley school officials attended the latter event, including representatives from Visalia Unified School District (VUSD). Mimi Bonds, director of student services at VUSD, said the event was “a foundational start” for the district to begin looking more closely at its own policies under the new law.
The district is also waiting for a report on SB 707 from the California School Board Association before adopting any new policies related to firearms on campus, Bonds said. The report is expected to come out sometime this month and will likely include draft language for a concealed carry policy.
“Normally you look at legislation and you adopt it because it’s the law. But, with the new law, it’s at the discretion of school boards,” she said. “There’s options here and we’ll have to look at those options to see if there’s something that may work for us.”
The law has a lot of elements and Morrison said Lozano Smith would continue to host SB 707 workshops as the need arises.
“There’s a lot of uncertainty on this issue,” he said. “For these events, we’re focused on cost prevention and getting the knowledge up front for the districts.”
At KJUHSD, Morris is eager to get the policy on the books, saying that while the district’s efforts were not prompted by any school-specific event, the national trend of mass shootings is alarming.
“We discussed this first post-Sandy Hook. We did some research but took no major steps,” he said. “More recently we began to push after the [SB 707] restrictions and the recent tragedy in San Bernardino.”
“Our local law enforcement is taxed because they have a lot to do and a lot to cover. I want us to be prepared for any situation when every second matters when it comes to saving lives,” he continued.
KJUHSD is a single-site school district with 1,200 students on a 56-acre campus.
Any staff members selected under the new concealed carry policy would already need to possess a valid carry permit and complete a training program selected by the district. Their identities would also remain secret from the public in order to avoid their being targeted.
Morris said he is still researching a training program but has spoken with local law enforcement including the Fresno County’ Sheriff’s Office and Kingsburg Police Department to get their input on which elements to include.
“We want to focus on how law enforcement would like us to respond in an emergency situation,” he said. “How to holster and how to react when they arrive on scene.”
If passed, the policy would also become part of the district’s larger campus security protocols, which currently include cameras and a safety alert system. The measures are reviewed on an annual basis and after every school safety incident.
“I don’t think this discussion ever ends. There is no single answer for school safety,” Morris said. “Hopefully people understand the intent of the policy. It’s not taken lightly and it’s done with a pure heart.”