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Evanston schools sued again over gun policy

EVANSTON — Uinta County School District No. 1 has again been sued over Rule CKA, which allows for approved staff to carry concealed firearms on district property. The latest suit was filed in Third District Court on Monday, Aug. 26 — the first day of school — by multiple plaintiffs, including local attorney Tim Beppler and retired teacher Katie Beppler, individually and on behalf of their minor grandchildren, as well as parents Nathan Prete (individually and on behalf of his minor children) and Tiffany Eskelson-Maestas (also individually and on behalf of her minor children).

The suit, filed by plaintiffs’ legal counsel The Rose Law Firm and Fox Rothschild LLP, alleges that Rule CKA violates the Wyoming Administrative Procedures Act (WAPA) in multiple ways, including that it violates the Wyoming Constitution and Wyoming Statute 21- 3-132 — the legislation that paved the way for school districts to adopt rules regarding concealed carry of firearms. The suit also claims the rule is “arbitrary and capricious and/or an abuse of discretion” and fails to follow procedures required by the WAPA.

A policy allowing for concealed carry of firearms was first adopted by the UCSD No. 1 School Board in March 2018; however, following an initial legal challenge, that policy was declared null and void in October of last year after Judge Nena James ruled the district had failed to follow WAPA rulemaking requirements.

Subsequent to that ruling, the district again pursued a concealed carry rule, which was unanimously approved by the school board on April 9 of this year.

The latest lawsuit alleges Rule CKA is in violation of Article 1, Sections 2 and 23, of the Wyoming Constitution because it violates equal protection rights of parents and students and “subjugates the right of those parents and students” who don’t want to be educated in a setting with “armed civilian employees” to those who do, thus treating similarly situated parents and students differently.

The suit further states that, by law, any action that interferes with the right to an equal opportunity to a proper public education “must be closely examined before it can be said to pass constitutional muster,” and to do so, the district “must establish that Rule CKA furthers a compelling state interest and is the least onerous means of accomplishing that objective” — criteria the suit alleges have not been met.

Plaintiffs in the case further allege that W.S. 21-3-132, the enabling legislation passed by the Wyoming Legislature in 2017, requires that school districts establish instructor qualifications, which Rule CKA fails to do.

As to the claim that Rule CKA is arbitrary and capricious, court documents state that WAPA rulemaking requires a “factual, rational basis supported by evidence in the Administrative Record, and, indeed, Defendant disregarded, deflected, and mischaracterized evidence demonstrating that Rule CKA would make students and schools less safe.”

To illustrate the claim the district did not base the rule on evidence, the suit points to three specific areas. First, it claims that, while the rule requires firearms training, it does not specifically require training or proficiency in school shooting scenarios. Second, the suit states the rule doesn’t require training or proficiency in providing emergency medical attention to gunshot wound victims, and there is no indication the district ever even considered the issue, in spite of evidence presented to the board in a school safety study.

Finally, the suit alleges that Rule CKA requires the use of barrier-penetrating ammunition, which is specifically designed to go through objects yet still maintain the ability to seriously injure or kill a person and could therefore potentially injure students taking cover behind walls, doors, desks, backpacks, etc., in an active-shooter situation. The court documents claim the failure to even consider the implications of requiring such ammunition demonstrates the district did not base rulemaking on available evidence or even consider safer options.

The suit goes on to claim that the district’s “Concise Statement of Principal Reasons for Adoption of the Rule,” which is required by the WAPA, “is deficient and fails to demonstrate that it fully considered and addressed the arguments in opposition to the rule.” The plaintiffs also allege the district placed the burden on opponents to prove the rule would make students and schools less safe rather than the district itself proving the rule would make schools safer and that district officials improperly acted as advocates for the rule rather than as independent decision makers, both of which the suit claims are in violation of required WAPA procedures.

The lawsuit asks that Rule CKA be ruled unlawful and set aside.

In addition to the suit, the plaintiffs have also filed a motion for a temporary restraining order and/or preliminary injunction to prevent the district from moving forward with continued implementation of the rule as the suit proceeds through the court system.

When reached for comment on the suit, UCSD No. 1 Superintendent Ryan Thomas said the district is still reviewing all the filed documents and the school board has not met since the filing. Thomas said, however, the board “has made it clear that, in order to safely protect students, staff and the community at large from violence and threats of violence, it will vigorously defend Rule CKA from any and all challenges.”

His statement continued, “It is clear from a tertiary review of the pleadings filed that plaintiffs seek to usurp the authority and undermine the lawful political process of the board to respond to the threat of violence in district schools. . . The process used to adopt CKA complied with Wyoming and federal law, and Rule CKA and W.S. 21-3-132 are constitutional under both the Wyoming and U.S. Constitutions.”

There has not yet been a date set for a hearing in the case.