School Shootings Seldom Addressed in Teacher Union Contracts

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By Jaclyn Diaz and Madison Alder

Teacher unions generally haven’t fought for specific provisions in union contracts that address active shooters in school.

The reason? It isn’t necessary, they say.

The union contract for teachers in Broward County, Fla., the scene of the most recent mass-casualty school attack, doesn’t have specific language addressing active shooter situations.

That’s not unusual, according to Bloomberg Law data. Only five out of 7,700 contracts across all industries analyzed by Bloomberg Law contain language about an “active shooter.”

Those contracts also don’t include a breakdown of benefits available to teachers after a campus crisis. Unions negotiate broad language covering school safety that is all-encompassing and would cover these situations, deeming a push for specific provisions unnecessary, Brian Beallor, a senior collective bargaining specialist with the National Education Association, said.

A big push from the unions at the national and local levels is to focus more on meeting the social and emotional needs of students, Beallor said.

Hands Off Security Language

The contract that covers teachers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., where a gunman killed 17 people, is silent about school shootings. The most pertinent safety language reads: “There shall be compliance with all applicable local, state and federal laws relating to health and safety of personnel. Whenever an unsafe or unhealthy condition exists, the employee aware of the condition, shall report to the principal who shall attempt to correct the problem.”

That broad language is typical of most teacher contracts in Florida, Brian Phillips, the director of organizing for the Florida Education Association, said.

The lack of language on school security measures is intentional, he said.

Security is a matter the school board and management handle and not something the union would negotiate over, Phillips said.

Unions do look for other ways to be involved in the discussion over school security, Beallor said. They have negotiated contracts that call for joint committees with teachers and administrators that would tackle safety training, education, and communication.

State Provides Death Benefits

The Broward Teachers Union contract has an employee assistance program provision under which teachers can get counseling at the expense of the employer.

“These crisis events don’t just affect the kids, they affect the staff as well, and sometimes even more so,” David Schonfeld director of the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement at the University of Southern California, told Bloomberg Law. Schonfeld works with schools and communities after crises like shootings or natural disasters.

Employers that offer employee assistance programs contract with behavioral health providers to offer short-term counseling and other support services to its workers, he said.

The state of Florida’s budget also has a specific appropriation for cases in which a “teacher or school administrator is killed or injured and dies as a result of an unlawful and intentional act,” according to the statute.

The beneficiaries of teachers or school administrators who die as the result of violence while acting in their professional capacity receive $75,000 “whether secured by insurance or not,” the statute says. The beneficiary will also receive $1,000 for funeral and burial expenses.

Lobbying, Addressing Emotional Needs

The NEA has seen a growing trend of unions negotiating for language that addresses the social and emotional needs of students. Providing mental and physical health services and before- and after-school services can go far in preventing a tragedy, unions say.

Another major part of preventing a school shooting is through public policy that addresses gun control and mental illness, Fedrick Ingram, vice president of the FEA, told Bloomberg Law.

The FEA has lobbied state lawmakers to provide more funding to address school safety needs, Kevin Watson, the director of public policy advocacy for the union, said.

“There has been flat funding for school safety even as we see dramatic growth in schools in the state,” Watson said. The union wants to see more money spent on mental health treatment and school resource officers, especially.

“It is a shame that it takes the 18th school shooting to get someone’s attention,” Watson said, referring to incidents in 2018. “There’s action and funding and policy that’s needed. We are in the midst of legislative session, and legislators in Florida have every opportunity to do the right thing.”

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