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Evanston schools seek dismissal of gun lawsuit

By Sheila McGuire

Uinta County Herald

Via- Wyoming News Exchange

Evanston has been one of the communities being watched by many other school districts in Wyoming on the issue of guns in school.

EVANSTON — Uinta County School District No. 1 has filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit filed against the district over Rule CKA, which allows for approved staff to carry concealed firearms on district property. The lawsuit was filed on Aug. 26 by Evanston attorney Tim Beppler, retired teacher Katie Beppler, and parents Nathan Prete and Tiffany Eskelson-Maestas, both as individuals and on behalf of their minor children. 

The suit makes several claims, including that Rule CKA is unconstitutional according to both the U.S. and Wyoming Constitution and that it violates the Wyoming Administrative Procedures Act in multiple ways. 

In the district’s motion to dismiss, filed through UCSD No. 1 legal counsel Geoff Phillips, the district rebuts the claims made in the suit and also argues that the Third District Court, where the suit was filed, lacks subject matter jurisdiction in the case because any petition for review of the Rule should have been filed within 30 days of its effective date. As the CKA rule packet was filed with the Uinta County Clerk on April 17 of this year, the district argues the plaintiffs would have had to file a petition by May 17. 

The memorandum filed in support of the motion to dismiss states, “To date, plaintiffs have failed to file a petition for review in a timely manner on or before May 17, 2019, and instead attempted to usurp or replace the specific administrative relief. . . by filing a Complaint for Declaratory Judgment on August 26, 2019. As a result, this court lacks subject matter jurisdiction. . .”

In addition to the claim regarding jurisdiction, documents filed by the district assert that Rule CKA is constitutional and cite legal precedent through which courts have found that “implicit within the constitutional guarantee of ‘a thorough and efficient system of free schools’ is the need for a safe and secure school environment.” 

The documents further state that both the enabling statute, W.S. 21-3-132, and CKA “are narrowly tailored in the least restrictive way to neutralize” the threats presented by an active shooter or other violent events, contradicting the suit’s claim that CKA is not the least onerous mechanism to achieve school safety and securitry.

In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs claimed the rule is arbitrary and capricious because it lacked a “factual, rational basis supported by evidence in the Administrative Record,” specifically noting that the rule does not require armed staff to receive training specific to school shooting scenarios, that it does not require personnel to receive training on providing emergency medical care to gunshot wound victims and that it requires the use of barrier-penetrating ammunition. The suit asserts this demonstrates the school board did not fully consider the evidence presented or the issues involved and therefore did not act on a “factual, rational basis.” 

However, the district’s motion to dismiss argues that W.S. 21-3-132, the legislation passed by the Wyoming Legislature in 2017 that allowed districts to create rules to allow for concealed carry, does not require training specific to school shooting scenarios or on first aid for gunshot wound victims, although the documents state the district does require first aid training for gunshot wounds as part of its general safety plan. 

Further, the motion claims that the legislation also does not require the use of specific ammunition and that the “specific information related to ammunition presented in plaintiffs’ complaint was never presented to the Board during the rule-making process for the Board to consider.” 

Finally, the district’s motion to dismiss addresses the plaintiffs’ assertions that the district placed the burden of proof on opponents of the rule to prove the rule would make students and schools less safe and that district officials improperly acted as advocates for the rule rather than impartial decision makers. 

Court documents filed by the district state that no burden of proof was assigned or allocated to anyone because rule-making procedures under the statutory requirements of the Wyoming Administrative Procedures Act (WAPA) do not address burden of proof at all. Further, the district claims the WAPA also does not require an agency to act as an “independent administrative decision maker,” but, even if it did, the board did “avoid the appearance of bias or prejudice” and did not issue any response to comments or offer any opinions on the rule until after all public comments had been received. 

Although the suit was filed in Third District Court under Judge Joseph Bluemel, the plaintiffs filed a motion to disqualify Bluemel, which can be requested by any of the parties in a lawsuit for any reason. During the court proceedings pertaining to the first lawsuit filed over CKA in 2018, UCSD No. 1 had moved to disqualify Bluemel, and court documents with the current suit state the plaintiffs did the same this time in anticipation of the district taking the same action again. 

As Bluemel is now disqualified, Judge Steven Sharpe of First District Court in Laramie has been assigned the case. No decision has yet been reached on the motion to dismiss and no hearing date has yet been set.