School Climate & Safety

Open Carry Issue in Michigan Schools May Not Be Settled

By Brendan Quealy, The Record-Eagle (Mich.) — August 03, 2018 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Traverse City, Mich.

Questions remain after the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that two school districts have the right to ban guns from their schools.

In what looked to be a clear win for the Michigan Association of School Boards as well as gun control advocates, the state Supreme Court on Friday ruled 4-3 in favor of Ann Arbor and Clio school district policies that barred individuals from openly carrying a firearm on school grounds even if they held an exempted concealed pistol license.

Many saw the ruling as a green light for districts to pass their own similar legislation without fear of litigation. That likely is not the case, according to attorney and firearms law professor Steve Dulan.

Dulan, who also serves on the Michigan Coalition of Responsible Gun Owners board of directors, said the ruling failed to adequately address why the school boards’ policies did not fall under the umbrella of conflict preemption, which gives state policies precedence over those of smaller governing bodies. Determining whether the policies were conflict-preempted was “unnecessary,” according to the court’s written opinion.

“It was a missed opportunity to clarify the issue,” Dulan said. “It looks like schools are allowed to make policies, however, there’s an open question if those policies are in direct conflict state law—and that issue has yet to be re-litigated.”

The court did rule on field preemption, stating school districts are not defined as a “local unit of government” and as such are not subject to their policies being overruled by the state. Michigan law prohibits a local unit of government from banning the possession of firearms.

“The Legislature has the authority to preempt school districts from adopting policies like the ones at issue that regulate firearms on school property. However, not only has the Legislature not done so, it has expressed its intent not to preempt such regulation,” the court’s opinion read.

Brad Banasik, legal counsel for the Michigan Association of School Boards, said the court’s ruling hasn’t really changed anything other than supporting and upholding the authority of school districts to adopt such policies.

“We respect the court’s decision and following their rules and precedent, but on the same token we certainly don’t want additional lawsuits filed against school districts,” Banasik said. “We believe there is no place for firearms on school property, outside of the very limited exceptions that are included in the law.”

Although it won’t be a violation of state law for an individual openly carry a firearm on school property, districts can enforce their policies through trespass violations or other ordinances regulating unauthorized persons on school grounds.

Nick Ceglarek, Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District superintendent, said there has been some confusion around the law and that there is still some trepidation despite the court’s decision.

“Districts are always cautious in establishing policy that may run counter to established laws. When there’s question or indecision, we rely on court rulings,” Ceglarek said. “Each local district is going to have to decide how they’re going to approach this. Even if there is a chance a district is opening itself up to litigation, I think there’s substantial cover based on the Supreme Court’s ruling.”

Justice Kurtis Wilder said in his dissent that it is only a question of when—if—this matter is brought before the court again.

“In order to fully resolve the ultimate issue before us ... it is necessary to determine whether those policies are in conflict with one or more statutes enacted by the Legislature,” Wilder wrote. “The majority has provided only partial guidance and left lingering doubts.”

Traverse City Area Public Schools dealt with the issue in 2014 when someone attended a board meeting legally carrying a firearm.

“When you see someone carrying a gun into a meeting, it raises your awareness level and then you come to grips with the fact that it’s legal,” TCAPS Superintendent Paul Soma said. “What can you do? There’s not a lot of discussion to have at that point.”

Soma has been outspoken against allowing guns on school grounds, but he said the current policies have worked out well for both sides.

“We’ve kind of settled into a pretty reasonable spot in having established a policy and practice that was respectful of the laws on the books and did the best job of creating a safe and secure environment,” he said. “Who wants to keep getting into those kind of battles when we’ve found a reasonable and respectful place that advocates on both sides have accepted?”

Copyright (c) 2018, The Record-Eagle. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency.

Events

English-Language Learners Webinar Helping English-Learners Through Improved Parent Outreach: Strategies That Work
Communicating with families is key to helping students thrive – and that’s become even more apparent during a pandemic that’s upended student well-being and forced constant logistical changes in schools. Educators should pay particular attention
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Mathematics Webinar
Addressing Unfinished Learning in Math: Providing Tutoring at Scale
Most states as well as the federal government have landed on tutoring as a key strategy to address unfinished learning from the pandemic. Take math, for example. Studies have found that students lost more ground
Content provided by Yup Math Tutoring
Classroom Technology Webinar Building Better Blended Learning in K-12 Schools
The pandemic and the increasing use of technology in K-12 education it prompted has added renewed energy to the blended learning movement as most students are now learning in school buildings (and will likely continue

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School Climate & Safety Transgender Students Need Adult Support in School. Is It Slipping?
Educators' support for transgender students and colleagues dropped since 2017, as anti-transgender bills mount in state legislatures.
6 min read
Conceptual picture of transgender flag overlaying shadows and silhouettes of anonymous people on a road.
iStock/Getty Images Plus
School Climate & Safety Explainer School Resource Officers (SROs), Explained
Does the presence of armed officers prevent school violence? Do they contribute for Black children to the 'school to prison pipeline'?
13 min read
Greeley Police Officer Steve Brown stands in the hallway during passing periods at Northridge High School in Greeley, Colo. on Oct. 21, 2016. While school resource officers, like Brown, are expected to handle responsibilities like any police officer they're faced with unique challenges working day-to-day in schools
Greeley Police Officer Steve Brown stands in the hallway during passing periods at Northridge High School in Greeley, Colo. While school resource officers, like Brown, are expected to handle responsibilities like any police officer, they're faced with unique challenges working day-to-day in schools.
Joshua Polson/The Greeley Tribune/AP
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School Climate & Safety Quiz
How Much Do You Know About School Crime and Safety?
How much do you know about school crime and safety?
Content provided by Masonite
School Climate & Safety Violence in Schools Seems to Be Increasing. Why?
Experts point to a confluence of reasons, including social isolation and access to guns. But there's no swift, obvious solution.
11 min read
Police respond to the scene of a shooting on Thursday, Sept. 30, 2021 in Memphis, Tenn. Authorities say a boy was shot and wounded at a school. Memphis Police said in a statement that the shooting was reported Thursday morning at Cummings School, which includes grades kindergarten through eighth.
Police respond to a shooting at a K-8 public school on Sept. 30 in Memphis, Tenn. Authorities say a boy was shot and wounded at a school.
Adrian Sainz/AP