Ken Wagner, Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education, issued the following notice today:
It has been brought to RIDE (Rhode Island Department of Education)’s attention that there is confusion among local education agency (LEA) personnel regarding who may carry a firearm, including a concealed-carry firearm, in a school. This confusion stems from inconsistencies among various state laws, regulations, and LEA policies that govern safety and firearms on school grounds.
With the start of the new school year, this document provides direction on how to navigate this issue and will be binding on LEAs and their personnel, effective immediately and until such time as the underlying laws are reconciled. The intent of this document is to ensure that all students in Rhode Island attend safe and secure schools, and is based on feedback from public safety experts, including the Rhode Island State Police, local police, as well as school administrators, teachers, and town officials.
Rhode Island General Law provides that all students and educators have the right to attend and work in a school that is safe and secure (R.I.G.L § 16-2-17). Moreover, the Basic Education Program (BEP) regulation expressly includes the right of all students to attend a school that is “free from the threat, actual or implied, of physical harm” (G-14-2.1.2).
Rhode Island General Law generally prohibits the possession of a firearm or weapon on school grounds (R.I.G.L. § 11-47-60(a)), with limited exemptions. For example, state law exempts from this prohibition active law enforcement officers (R.I.G.L. § 11-47-9) and those participating in limited, expressly authorized school-sponsored activities (R.I.G.L. § 11-47-60(b)). State law also exempts, and therefore currently allows onto school grounds, non-law enforcement persons who obtain concealed-carry permits pursuant to R.I.G.L. §§ 11-47-11 or 11-47-18. See R.I.G.L. § 11-47-60(b).
Rhode Island is an outlier as one of only a small minority of states where firearms, unless carried by law enforcement, are not clearly and absolutely banned from school grounds. By contrast, state courthouses, state colleges and universities, and other government buildings in Rhode Island prohibit the possession of all firearms on premises, including concealed-carry firearms, with limited exceptions for authorized law enforcement officers.
A number of school districts in Rhode Island have adopted policies that ban gun possession in schools, other than by law enforcement. However, the extent to which these local firearms policies are created, understood, and enforced varies across schools and districts. As a result, school and district personnel in different municipalities have different understandings and practices regarding what is and is not allowed regarding firearms.
This uncertainty raises important questions. If a student or teacher were to see a person other than a law enforcement officer carrying a firearm in school, would or should that person assume there is a threat? Would or should that person activate an emergency school protocol? Contact law enforcement for emergency assistance? Are individuals who bring a concealed firearm on school grounds required to inform the school that they are carrying a firearm? What proof must they show? How would a student, parent, teacher, principal, superintendent, school resource officer, or police officer know who is or is not authorized to carry a firearm on school grounds?
The lack of consistent rules regarding firearms in PK-12 schools creates confusion and the exact type of unsafe school environment that the law is intended to prevent, and therefore violates the right of students and teachers to attend a safe school, which is enshrined in state law, including R.I.G.L. §16-2-17 and the BEP.
Therefore, under the authority granted to RIDE by state law and the BEP to ensure that those in schools are safe, secure, and “free from the threat, actual or implied, of physical harm,” and to ensure consistent understanding and safety protocols across all schools, all firearms, including concealed-carry firearms, are hereby banned from all public school buildings and grounds by anyone other than visibly identified active law enforcement officers and those visibly identified and approved to participate in the limited, school-sponsored activities expressly authorized by statute (listed in (R.I.G.L. § 11-47-60(b)).
All such active law enforcement personnel must, unless responding to an emergency, notify school administrators when they are carrying a firearm on school grounds and receive the proper visible identification to be worn for the duration of their visit.
In summary, this is an immediate and binding directive on LEAs and LEA personnel, in effect until such time as the underlying laws are reconciled, which:
- Prohibits everyone other than active law enforcement personnel from carrying firearms, including concealed-carry firearms, on school grounds statewide;
- Requires a protocol for active law enforcement personnel with a firearm to notify LEA personnel upon visitation to school grounds statewide and be visibly identified for the duration of the visit.
“It isn’t hard: Guns don’t belong in schools. Even Mississippi bans non-law enforcement officials from carrying guns onto school grounds. As we start a new school year, our students cannot wait a minute longer for the General Assembly to take action on the Safe Schools Act. The Rhode Island Department of Education has issued a binding directive to every school district that immediately bans firearms from our kids’ schools,” said Governor Gina Raimondo. “Since the shooting at Parkland, Rhode Islanders of all ages and all parties have come together to strengthen gun safety and protect our students. As long as I am Governor, I will stand up with teachers, parents, students, law enforcement, doctors, nurses and every day Rhode Islanders for a safer community.”
“It’s our job to protect kids and their teachers,” said Wagner. “Inconsistencies among laws, regulations, and local policies and practices create confusion, producing the exact kind of unsafe environment the law is intended to prevent. As we start a new school year, this directive provides clarity, until such time that the underlying laws are reconciled.”
“We are pleased that the Governor listened to the concerns of educators across the state and that she is taking action. NEARI joins with the Governor, Commissioner and law enforcement in supporting the prohibiting of concealed carry in schools. Guns, except for law enforcement, do not belong in schools. The answer to the horrific shootings that take place in our schools is not more guns, but fewer. Parents should have the expectation that when they put their child on the bus in the morning, they will return in the afternoon. This will help ensure that. Rhode Island is only one of four states that allow this and by ending it today, Rhode Island will have taken another step toward protecting our students and educators.”
“As Providence Commissioner of Public Safety, I fully support this policy and thank Governor Raimondo and Commissioner Wagner for their action to prohibit firearms from schools, which will enhance the safety of students, teachers and staff members. This policy will also serve in eliminating unnecessary dangers that police officers may face when working in or responding to calls for service at schools. There is no place for weapons of any kind to be kept within our schools other than in the possession of trained law enforcement officials.”
“As a Town Manager, former law enforcement officer and citizen of Rhode Island, I fully support the policy announced by Commissioner Wagner today. It is a common-sense approach to make our schools safer. As one of the co-chairs of the Gun Safety Working Group, I can report that this is one of the many recommendations we’ve been studying.”
“I am proud of Governor Raimondo and Commissioner Wagner’s latest action to protect our children, teachers, and parents by prohibiting guns on school property. Our government employees have this protection; why shouldn’t the same protection be afforded to our children? The debate on a national level, suggesting more guns in schools, is simply outrageous. There is nothing more heartbreaking than hearing children say they do not want to go to school because they are afraid they will be shot. We need to do all that we can to prevent gun violence and I am very relieved that Governor Raimondo understands the need and has acted to protect our children. I am looking forward to returning to the legislature so that we may continue our work on this issue.”
“The Rhode Island State Police supported legislation proposed last year to ban anyone except law enforcement officers from carrying weapons in schools. The policy announced by Commissioner Wagner today is fully consistent with our commitment to keep schools safe.”
“As the head of a public school department, I have no greater priority than the safety of our students, and over my tenure as a school administrator, I have regularly consulted with experts on best practices in school safety. It is clear to me that in the best interest of safety, the only guns we should allow in our schools are those in the possession of law enforcement officials.”
“As Superintendent, I take the responsibility of the safety and security of our students and staff extremely seriously. This conversation is continually at the forefront of our work. Through our diligent research into the national data on school security and our partnership with local law enforcement, we believe the only guns in our schools should be that of trained law enforcement personnel. Our focus needs to be on using resources to support the social emotional learning and needs of our students to ensure the well-being of our school community.”
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