School Board vs. State Law: Who Has the Final Say on Guns in Schools?
After a Birmingham parent brought a gun to an elementary school in early October, district officials say they're not changing policies banning guns on school property despite conflicting laws and court rulings.
Birmingham Public Schools is standing behind their policy that bans guns from school grounds, even though certain state laws and a recent court ruling may make it harder for any school district to regulate the presence of guns and other weapons.
Birmingham's policy on guns in schools was thrust into the spotlight after a Birmingham parent brought a gun into an elementary school while picking up his child during the first week of October.
The Birmingham Board of Education issued a written warning to the parent, notifying him that he was in violation of School Board Policy and any further infractions would result in immediate removal from school grounds and possibly criminal prosecution.
However, a recent statement from the school district's attorneys office, as well as several recent court rulings, may make gun policies like Birmingham's null and void, leaving open the question: who gets the final say on guns in schools? The local school district, or the state?
Incident investigated by police after little drama at school building
According to district spokeswoman Marcia Wilkinson, no charges were filed in the October incident, nor have there been any move toward litigation on the part of the parent.
In fact, Deputy Superintendent for Educational Services Paul DeAngelis said the incident occurred with very little drama. Though few details of the incident have been released by the district — including the name of the man and the building where the incident occurred — DeAngelis said several staff members noticed the man had a gun when he entered the building.
Whether the gun was supposed to be concealed, DeAngelis said he isn't sure. DeAngelis said he believes the parent meant to conceal the gun, but since several people saw it, that question is still up in the air.
Per Birmingham's administrative guidelines, staff members contacted local police, who then investigated the incident. DeAngelis said school staff are directed never to ask individuals with weapons whether they're being carried legally.
District policy bans guns except for concealed weapons in vehicles
According to DeAngelis, Birmingham Public Schools' position on guns is simple: "there is no place for guns in schools."
"I want people to feel safe," said DeAngelis on Monday afternoon. "Our fear will always be weapons in schools."
According to School Board Policy 7217, which was last amended in June 2009:
"The Board of Education prohibits visitors from possessing, storing, making or using a weapon in any setting that is under the control and supervision of the Board for the purpose of school activities ... including property leased, owned, or contracted for by the Board, a school-sponsored event, or in a district-owned vehicle."
Exceptions to the policy include weapons under the control of law enforcement, items approved as part of a class presentation, theatrical props and starter pistols used at sporting events. Firearms can also be lawfully stored in a locked vehicle parked on school grounds.
In addition, parents may have a concealed weapon with them on school property if they stay in their vehicle while picking up or dropping off their child.
According to DeAngelis, the school district has made exceptions for several individuals over the years, including one parent who works as a homeland security officer and picks up their child everyday in full uniform.
According to DeAngelis, this is the first time the district's policies on weapons have been called into question. There are currently no "Gun Free School Zones" signs at any Birmingham schools.
New state bill would make those with concealed carry licenses exempt from gun-free zones
However, the issue of guns at schools is far from clear cut. In fact, while most state and federal laws say guns aren't allowed at schools, this does not apply to individuals with a concealed carry license.
Birmingham's policy is based on the Gun Free School Zones Act of 1990, which makes it illegal to carry a weapon within 1,000 feet from any school. However, gun owners are exempted from this rule if they are "licensed by the state."
That being said, schools and school property are on the list of Michigan's "Pistol Free Areas," according to MCL 28.425o, with the exception that gun owners are allowed to carry their weapons while in a vehicle — language similar to that of Birmingham's policy.
Still, many say it doesn't matter what the school district's rules are — gun policies aren't up to them or any other local municipalities.
In a recent ruling out of Ingham County, the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled that the Capital Area District Library system in Lansing had no authority to openly-banish firearms, according to a report on MLive.
In fact, the court said the 1990 Michigan Firearms and Ammunition Act prohibits any local municipalities (including libraries, considered a "quasi-municipal" entity) from "regulating the possession, licensing or transportation of pistols or other properly-licensed firearms."
A Nov. 2 statement from Clark Hill, PLLC — the law firm representing Birmingham Public Schools — noted that, similar to the Gun Free School Zone Act, while schools are listed as a prohibited area for firearms, this prohibition "does not apply to individuals licensed by Michigan or another state to carry a concealed weapon."
In an attempt to clarify the rules even further, the State Senate recently passed Senate Bill 59 last Thursday, which would allow those with a concealed carry licenses to carry a weapon in schools, churches, bars, daycares, college dorms, hospitals and stadiums after completing an additional nine hours of training. The bill will be heard in the House Natural Resources Committee on Tuesday.
Administrator wants people 'to feel safe in our schools'
Regardless of what happens at the state level or in the courts, DeAngelis said the current crop of conflicting legislation and court rulings regarding guns in schools will likely be hammered out by litigation.
Until then, Birmingham Public Schools has no intention of changing their policies anytime soon.
"We're going to stand by our policies until someone tells us we have to change," DeAngelis said. "Federal law should be the law of the land and we shouldn't have to deal with guns in schools."
"It feels like the reasonable and prudent thing to do," DeAngelis added. "I just want people to safe in our schools."