Tamaqua teachers continue fight to keep 'students, faculty, staff safe'
The union representing teachers in the Tamaqua Area School District plans to file an amended complaint with additional facts to support its standing to challenge a contentious district policy permitting employees to carry firearms at school.
“We intend to address the court’s concern by filing an amended complaint within the next few days to support our belief that the possession of firearms by insufficiently trained school personnel poses a danger to our members at school,” said Frank Wenzel, president of the Tamaqua Education Association. “We believe the additional facts we set forth will support the standing of the Tamaqua Education Association to bring this lawsuit on behalf of its members.”
The Tamaqua Education Association, an affiliate of the Pennsylvania State Education Association, filed the lawsuit in Schuylkill County Court of Common Pleas on Nov. 14. The association charged that the policy adopted last fall by the Tamaqua Area School Board violates the Pennsylvania School Code and other laws limiting the use of firearms by public employees.
Steven J Cholish, PSEA/NEA UniServ representative, said Monday, “The Tamaqua Area Education Association is prepared to see this through to ensure that students, faculty and staff are safe.”
He added, “We do not see this as a setback, but rather the judicial system is doing its due diligence to ensure that the overwhelming majority of Tamaqua teachers are in support of the action we have taken.”
The district teachers’ union said in the suit that state law already has a framework for putting armed security in schools and further states that the lethal weapons training program can’t be used for government employees.
Last week Schuylkill County Judge Jacqueline L. Russell dismissed the challenge brought by the teachers seeking to block the policy after the court ruled that the association needed to allege additional facts related to standing and gave the association 20 days to file an amended complaint.
Russell said the union alleges that its members have been harmed because the district’s policy pertaining to school resource professionals provides for less training and experience “than required by the General Assembly,” and “violates an express statutory provision.”
“No facts, however, are alleged to support the aforesaid conclusions about training/experience required by the Legislature and no statute, the ‘express’ terms of which are allegedly violated, is identified,” Russell wrote in her opinion.
She said the union must allege that at least one of its members is aggrieved by the defendant’s policy in that he/she has suffered or will suffer direct, immediate and substantial injury to his/her interest as a result of the action of the defendant.
While the union’s complaint says the policy depends upon the voluntary participation of employees, Russell said the union has “not specifically identified any of its members who allegedly are aggrieved, has not specifically alleged that at least one of its members has suffered or will suffer injury as a result of the policy.”
She wrote, “Due to the policy providing for voluntary participation, it is not evident from the complaint whether the plaintiff is seeking to serve as a representative of a discrete number of persons with individual claims, its entire membership or otherwise.
The school board suspended Policy 705 last month after two suits were filed.
The other suit, brought by school district parents who are opposed to the policy, is still pending in Schuylkill County Court. That suit alleges that the board intentionally passed the policy in secret.
Neither suit sought monetary damages.
Director Nick Boyle — who came up with Policy 705 — has said the district does not have the money to pay to have police officers in the school, and that the Parkland, Florida, school shooting showed that armed officers in school are not always effective.
Policy 705 allows teachers to volunteer to be trained to carry weapons in school during class time. Teachers would be trained under the state’s Lethal Weapons Training Program and be authorized to use force up to and including deadly force in situations where necessary, such as an active shooter.
The school board will hold its workshop tonight at 7 o’clock, followed by its regular meeting at 7:30.