Officials at the Mississippi Department of Education “responded to misinformation” late Thursday night to clear up confusion about what the State Board of Education voted through in its meeting earlier in the day.
The State Board of Education did not, as was reported by several news outlets on Thursday, vote to allow guns to be carried on K-12 campuses. The board did, however, vote to update its outdated internal policy to conform to a 10-year-old state law.
The State Board of Education passed a policy in 1990 that prohibited weapons on campus (except in the possession of law enforcement officials) and required local school districts to have a policy regarding weapons on campus. But in 2012, when state lawmakers passed an enhanced carry law that allowed enhanced permit holders to carry weapons on school campuses, the education department never updated its policy.
The board’s vote on Thursday simply squared the department’s internal policy with state law for the first time.
“State board policies can’t prohibit something that is authorized in law — even though we do have this policy on the books, the statute would supersede our policy,” Erin Meyer, the education department’s general counsel, said at the Thursday meeting.
In its Thursday vote, the board maintained the requirement for local school districts to have a policy on weapons. The department also recommended, during the Thursday meeting and in the clarifying press release, that school districts consult with their local board attorneys.
Before being finalized, the policy will move through the department’s public comment process. As of Thursday night, the page to submit comments had not opened yet. Public comments that are received will be presented at the September board meeting.
During the meeting, Meyer referenced an attorney general’s opinion from 2013, which clarifies that possessing a gun on school property is a felony according to Mississippi law unless one possesses an enhanced concealed carry permit.
To possess an enhanced concealed carry license, a person must complete a weapons training course approved by the Board of Law Enforcement Officer Standards and Training and undergo a background check, according to the statute.
The opinion elaborates that people with enhanced concealed carry permits are allowed in the “public areas of a school,” but specifies that “school districts may bar persons, including persons with enhanced carry permits, from areas of the school to which the general public is not allowed.”
Micah Hill, the board’s senior student representative, asked if this would allow teachers with enhanced carry permits to have weapons on campus. Meyer responded that school districts would be able to make their own rules regarding weapons on campus.
It is clarified in the attorney general’s opinion that school districts are permitted to make employment policies prohibiting carrying weapons on campus, regardless of enhanced carry status.
Brian McGairty, director of the office of safe and orderly schools, also discussed the newly-formed Mississippi School Safety Alliance during this portion of the meeting. The group, consisting of parent groups, law enforcement, youth court judges, mental health advocates, and educators, will be offering recommendations regarding these changes to the State Board of Education as a part of the public comment process.
One potential recommendation that was brought up during the meeting was an additional course for individuals’ enhanced concealed carry permits to be recognized by the school district. They also discussed requiring school districts to report their weapons policies to the Department of Education.