School board must find new insurance provider or take guns away from staff

By: - June 15, 2023 3:51 pm

Two northwest Iowa school districts are searching for new liability insurance policies after allowing staff to carry firearms in schools. (Stock photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

The Spirit Lake Community School District is in the process of resolving an insurance issue created by a policy allowing school employees to carry guns on campus. 

School administration was notified in November by its insurance provider, EMC Insurance, of a potential lapse in insurance coverage, according to email acquired through an open records request by a community group. The district was notified by agent Bill Cochran-Bray of Central Insure.

The notice stated the district’s liability coverage would expire June 30, if the school district maintained a policy allowing anonymous school employees to carry district issued guns.

Despite community members asking the board to address the issue, there was no action taken or conversation from the school board regarding insurance during its June meeting, according to the meeting’s minutes.

In an email sent to parents of the district on Monday, the school district stated the position of the school, including action to be taken at a special board meeting: 

“We understood that if we fully implemented our safety plan it was a possibility the District’s property and liability coverage would be non-renewed on July 1, 2023. We received official notification on May 15, 2023, that our current property and liability coverage would be non-renewed due to our safety plan not meeting their underwriting guidelines.

“We have been working closely with our agent in exploring all options from all available carriers well in advance of our renewal date. It is typical in today’s market of insurance that insured entities would not receive quotes until weeks or days prior to the effective coverage date. We are optimistic we will have quotes yet this week.

“As soon as quotes are received and reviewed, our agent will present a proposal and provide a difference in conditions report, which will be provided to the board for consideration at a special meeting. The date and time, within the next two weeks, are yet to be determined.”

In an email to the school board, Kate Mendenhall, a parent in the district, asked the school board for more transparency. 

“The school has had ample time to prepare for a loss of coverage and the public has a right to know who you are seeking coverage from, what the estimated premiums for that coverage will be and what the premium will be to stay with EMC with a reversal of the armed staff policy.”

Mendenhall said in an interview she does not feel there has been adequate response from the school board. 

“The board owes the community an explanation, a clear plan of action, the financial impact of the plan and assurance that the school’s summer school, athletics, building projects, etc. will be able to continue on July 1,” Mendenhall said. 

Unless Spirit Lake finds a new insurance provider, the school would have to repeal the armed-staff policy to continue coverage under EMC. 

The Cherokee School District, also insured by EMC, drafted a similar school safety policy, and is facing a similar issue.

Jodi Thomas, Cherokee school board president, has said the board expects premiums to “go up quite a bit,” compared to its premiums with EMC before it enacted the policy to arm staff, KTIV reports.

The armed-staff policy

Spirit Lake’s armed-staff policy was approved before the 2023-2024 school year and allows 10 non-teacher, non-bus drivers appointed by the school superintendent to carry a gun on school property. 

The safety policy, initially voted on in a special meeting in August, was tabled until it could be voted on during a regular meeting, a previous rule of the board. 

In the September regular meeting, the board approved the safety plan, and updated policies to allow policy changes to be made during special meetings. 

The safety policy was updated in November and outlines the training required for a staff member to carry a gun. 

Spirit Lake Chief of Police Shane Brevik sent a letter to Spirit Lake School Board in November stating his disapproval of the armed-staff plan. 

It is unknown whether members of the district staff completed training and were armed for the 2023-2024 school year. Spirit Lake Superintendent David Smith did not return messages seeking comment Wednesday or Thursday. 

Outside Spirit Lake schools

House File 654, which failed this spring, would have prohibited insurance companies from denying insurance to schools based solely on the presence of a person authorized to carry a gun on school grounds. 

State Rep. John Wills, R-Spirit Lake, said lawmakers would advance legislation to help the school district to maintain coverage and maintain the armed-staff policy. 

Wills said that next session, a bill forcing EMC to insure Cherokee and Spirit Lake under the penalty of loss of government contracts will be “coming forward very quickly,” the Storm Lake Times Pilot reported.

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Jay Waagmeester
Jay Waagmeester

Jay is a former Iowa Capital Dispatch intern. Jay is based in Ames and is currently a senior majoring in journalism and marketing at Iowa State University. He has interned at New Century Press and contributed to the Iowa State Daily.