BOE starts discussion on weapons policy

Current policy’s terms are not on par with New Hampshire laws

NASHUA – The Board of Education policy committee met Tuesday evening to start discussion around any changes to the district’s existing weapons policy.

According to policy chair Heather Raymond, the state recently asked that all district’s re-evaluate their current policies, which are set to go out to students every year.

Nashua’s current policy reads: “Weapons are not permitted on school property, in school vehicles or at school-sponsored activities. This policy applies to students and members of the public alike.”

In this case, weapons include guns, knives, and explosives among other items. Any student who is determined to have brought a firearm to school will be expelled for at least one year, according to the policy.

It then states that students and members of the public who violate the policy will be reported to law enforcement.

This policy includes exceptions for law enforcement personnel and instructional staff who may use a weapon (such as a knife but not a firearm) for teaching purposes.

However, these terms are not concurrent with state law, and have not been for several years.

According to a notice from the Attorney General’s Office in 2016, while the federal Gun Free School Zones Act prohibits guns within 1,000 feet of public, parochial or private schools (barring certain circumstances), “if the individual possessing the firearm is licensed by the State to possess the firearm and law enforcement authorities have verified that the person is qualified to receive the licence, then that individual can carry a firearm onto school property.”

The Milford School District weapons policy, which Raymond included in the attachments for the meeting, reflects this change, allowing anyone with license or concealed carry permit to have the gun on school property.

This allowance, despite going against federal law, is because New Hampshire is not a home-rule state, meaning municipalities cannot govern themselves or set their own regulations when it comes to firearms.

According to Nashua Police Chief Andrew Lavoie, only the state legislature can do that.

In comparison, the Hudson School District does not even address the public issue in its policy, and focuses only on students possessing weapons, which school board member Howard Coffman suggested Nashua follow in changes to the current policy.

School districts such as Hanover and Lebanon still have policies completely banning guns on school property, and, according to Raymond, have decided not to amend them.

A great deal of time was spent during Tuesday’s meeting debating how school officials would know that someone with a weapon had a license/permit to carry concealed. Would that responsibility fall on the principal or office personnel?

However, this discussion was not strictly necessary, according to Lavoie.

Until last year, NH gun owners had to get a permit to carry a concealed handgun, but thanks to new legislation, that is now optional. The state is also open-carry-friendly.

This means, Lavoie said, that in order to legally bring a weapon onto school property, concealed or not, one just needs to be able to legally own a gun.

The only exception, he said, is for students. Local schools are allowed to prohibit students from having a firearm on school property, whether the student in 18 and legally owns one or not.

Last month, the state Senate voted against an amendment on SB 357, which would have permitted the schools to override the state law allowing gun owners to carry firearms on school campuses.

Also in the works is HB 1749, a bill that would specifically prohibit school boards from imposing firearm restrictions and would introduce penalties for doing such.

The bill was prompted by decisions in Milford and Lebanon. In Milford, selectmen allegedly voted to ban target shooting on town land, and in Lebanon, the school board voted to ban firearms on school property and at school events on any property.

While SB 1749 does not solely target schools, but in the wake of recent school shootings, a great deal of attention has been focused on that part of the bill.

Board member Gloria Timmons referenced her military background and said she would not support any guns on school policy.

“Guns are meant to kill,” she said.

Raymond was also uncomfortable with the conversation, although she felt it was necessary to have.

“I’m struggling to understand why someone would want to bring a loaded gun into an area with small children,” she said. It also seemed to not make sense, pointed out, that school districts around the country are spending millions of dollars to “fortify our schools” with security updates, when a person who owns a gun legally can walk in with it no matter what.

Board members agreed that they would all be better served to continue the conversation with both corporation counsel and Nashua police. They will schedule a work session before making any policy changes.

Hannah LaClaire can be reached at 594-1243 or hlaclaire@nashuatelegraph.com.