Virginia school boards must comply with state laws:  Guns or no guns - that isn't the issue when governing bodies become 'scofflaws' of acts they don't like

by Dave Briggman

I am the individual who started the debate about the issue of school board powers v. Virginia law. It began here in Rockingham County. This issue is not about “guns”, much to your displeasure, it’s about government complying with its own law. There is no conflict of laws in this issue as you stated in your piece. It also demonstrates that local schools must comply with never-ending laws on both the state and federal levels.  

With both state and federal law protecting discrimination based on sex, your paper would be all over a local school board that choose to hire only men – or women – notwithstanding Virginia and federal protections barring discrimination based…same stuff, different underlying issue. 

It is my sincere hope that your paper has the intellectual and moral courage to bring this reply to your editorial entitled "Toxic Combination" which appeared in your paper today. I have never seen so many lies in a newspaper editorial in my 40 years. They are not simple errors, there are too many of them to have been errors. You’re misstating and/or omitting the facts to attempt to grab public opinion where it might not otherwise exist. Sensationalism usually is quite effective at that. 

I have many corrections to your editorial and those corrections will follow the quoted section from your piece. Please also expect a phone call from me on Friday. 


“So while state law requires that school boards expel any student who brings a firearm onto school property…”


Lie #1...Virginia Code Section 22.1-277.07(A) states: 

"In compliance with the federal Improving America's Schools Act of 1994 (Part F-Gun-Free Schools Act of 1994), a school board shall expel from school attendance for a period of not less than one year any student whom such school board has determined, in accordance with the procedures set forth in this article, to have brought a firearm onto school property or to a school-sponsored activity as prohibited by § 18.2-308.1, or to have brought a firearm as defined in subsection D or an air rifle or BB gun on school property or to a school-sponsored activity." 

The Gun Free Schools Act of 1994, which is also known as Title 20, U.S.C., Section 7151(g) with which this Virginia law was enacted to comply with specifically permits a firearm lawfully stored in the trunk of a vehicle, specifically, the law states:

“Nothing in this section shall apply to a firearm that is lawfully stored inside a locked vehicle on school property, or if it is for activities approved and authorized by the local educational agency and the local educational agency adopts appropriate safeguards to ensure student safety.”

§ 18.2-308.1(B) of the Code of Virginia specifically permits unloaded rifles and shotguns – as well as knives – to be in closed containers in vehicles on school grounds. This law is not new, it’s over 10 years old. The amendment which was unanimously passed by both houses and signed into law by the Governor merely removed “discretion” on the part of some judges who didn’t feel that a trunk was a closed container.


See a conflict here? Apparently the General Assembly didn’t.


Lie #2...There is no conflict in the law. 


Neither did Gov. Mark Warner when he signed off on a new law that says a locked trunk qualifies as a closed container, confirming the theory that one dumb move begets another.


As I stated, above, this is an amended law. The law has permitted the same behavior to occur on school grounds for over a decade. 


Or with whatever after-school activity a student with a pistol stowed in the trunk has in mind — the loophole applies to firearms generally, including handguns and weapons that aren’t hunting equipment.


Lie #3...This law does not apply to handguns and the law doesn’t even mention hunting. Many schools in Virginia also have in-school gun safety and hunting courses. 


Mixing kids, schools and guns — not a smart combination.


Lie #4…If you have some statistical data that demonstrates this statement, I’d like to see it. No such data, to my knowledge exists. The fact of the matter is there has been no school shooting in Virginia since at least dating back to 1992…I do have statistical data which proves that. In fact, only one child has been killed on school grounds in Virginia…that was a child in Hampton who was stabbed – not shot.  


Undermining the ability of school boards to make schools safe places for learning — not a smart policy.


Lie #5…Nobody’s undermining anything. This exercise is to ensure government follows its own law. Just as you and I are expected to do.  

Let’s examine this further in Virginia law, shall we?  

I’ve already demonstrated that the expulsion statute which schools must use to expel for weapons violations allows specifically references both the Virginia law that was amended and went into effect on July 1, 2003 as well as the federal law known as the “Gun Free Schools Act of 1994”…both of these laws allow what the school boards want to punish students for.  

I think we’d all agree that the public schools in Virginia are, in fact, local government entities, wouldn’t we? They all have school buses with license plates that are for “local government use only”, the enjoy sovereign immunity and public tax dollars are used to fund the schools. 

Let’s look at another law, § 15.2-915 of the Code of Virginia. 

This law addresses a locality’s ability to craft either ordinances or to take administrative actions against people for matters relating to firearms:

“From and after January 1, 1987, no locality shall adopt any ordinance, resolution or motion, as permitted by § 15.2-1425, and no agent of such locality shall take any administrative action, governing the…possession, carrying or transporting of firearms, ammunition, or components or combination thereof other than those expressly authorized by statute. For purposes of this section, a statute that does not refer to firearms, ammunition, or components or combination thereof, shall not be construed to provide express authorization.

The provisions of this section applicable to a locality shall also apply to any authority or to a local governmental entity, including a department or agency, but not including any local or regional jail or juvenile detention facility.”

Aside from the Dillon Rule, which we’re all familiar with, this law specifically ties the hands of local school boards to enact any policy which is inconsistent with Virginia law.


Some Virginia school boards are caught between their policies creating gun-free school zones and the state law.


Lie #6…No. School Boards were caught attempting to or enacting a policy that they knew during the last session of the General Assembly they’d have to conform to, possibly in violation of four Virginia laws. 

I spoke with the lobbyist of the Virginia School Superintendent’s Association, Jack Pruett, who lives in or around Charlottesville. He advised me that he emailed the Superintendents of all public school divisions within Virginia during the last session warning them they’d have to change their policies to conform to Virginia law. Ironically, the VSSA and the Virginia School Board Association offered any opposition to the passage of the amendment last year. 

Even more ironic, is an overwhelming majority of public schools in Virginia have adopted the “Code of Ethics for School Board Members” that the VSBA has on their website. It states and I quote: “I will bring about desired changes through legal and ethical procedures, upholding and enforcing all laws, state regulations, and court orders pertaining to schools. At the same time, the VSBA has distributed a “boilerplate” weapons policy to 134 of its member school divisions throughout Virginia. Its policy number is “JFCD”. Type “policy JFCD” and Virginia into Google and see what you come up with. The VSBA is distributing a policy which is based largely on repealed or old versions or Virginia and federal law. 

The proper resolution would be for the schools board to have amended their policies to conform to Virginia law AND THEN seek a change to Virginia’s law, or, challenge the law in Court – just as students are taught to obey laws in school and then act to change the laws if they don’t agree with them. 

Your editorial piece is largely based on six lies…lies I believe you are obligated to report to your readers as such. 

Last but not least, should you join the drone about the School Board’s authority lying in Article VIII, Section 7 of Virginia’s Constitution, I think I’ll vomit. That’s merely the establishment clause which requires all government school divisions to have a school board and it allows them to supervise the operations of their schools. It’s not unrestricted supervision, supervisory ability is limited under Virginia law as this Opinion rendered against the Fairfax County School Board last November when they attempted to enact a policy with no statutory authority where I quote the relevant sections: 

Opinion 02-089

“As the Supreme Court of Virginia has noted, "[s]chool boards … constitute public quasi-corporations that exercise limited powers and functions of a public nature granted to them expressly or by necessary implication, and none other." The Fairfax County School Board is subject to the Dillon Rule as is Fairfax County. As such, the school board may exercise no greater authority than that authorized by statute. Thus, without enabling legislation, the school board has no authority to add sexual orientation as a category in its nondiscrimination policy.”

Like the schools boards I’ve encountered thus far, your position lacks any basis in the law – let alone, reality. While I don’t necessarily condone this law, I would likely do nothing to further its repeal either. You cannot show me where this law represents a threat to a student who wants to kill either his fellow students or teachers.

Then again, perhaps the student should just park his car across the street from the school where he might legally keep it “locked and loaded” without any hassle from either the police or the school board. Generally, at least at my high school, across the street was much closer than the student parking areas.

If my child does something at school that the law specifically permits and gets either suspended or expelled for it, I’d be dealing with them in court and collecting quite a bit of money. If your child takes a rifle to school and you don’t like it, punish the child yourself. But that would be admitting responsibility for the actions of your child instead of deferring your parental rights to a government school, which is much easier, right?

Your dog don’t hunt here…but then, if we were discussing private schools, this wouldn’t be an issue, would it?

Dave Briggman
7556 Mountain Valley Road
Keezletown, Virginia 22832